10 July 2014
Is Australia ready for the Asian Century?Not really, is the clear message from a series of articles published by the Australian blog, "The Conversation", last year.
Is Australia ready for the ‘Asian century?’. Anthony Milner.The Asian century will mean more than a mere rebalancing of power between the United States and China, according to Tony Milner of the Australian National University. The China-Japan contest could turn out to be more important in shaping Asia’s strategic future, and there is the China-India relationship as well.
The stronger Indonesia, which we are already beginning to see, will also want greater influence in the wider Asian region, and not merely Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Australian diplomacy will need to build coalitions with one group or another of Asian states and will also need to be prudent in handling our neighbours like Malaysia when we need regional cooperation to handle refugee flows. Business culture will require a greater willingness to take account of Asian viewpoints.
If we want more investment opportunities in Asia, not just trade, there will be a need for sociological as well as economic knowledge. But what we have now is an Australian community in which almost no one learns an Asian language, and the study of Asian societies and histories is virtually ignored in our schools.
How to keep the peace and ensure regional security. Nick Bisley.Asia is riddled with security threats -- narcotics smuggling in West Asia, great power rivalry between China and the United States, disputes over Taiwan, North Korea, unresolved border between China and India, India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, battles over resources and strategic advantages in islands in Northeast Asia and the South China Sea, rapidly increasing military spending, rivalries from prosperity and ambition, and the US military 'pivot' to Asia.
Then there is transnational terrorism, environmental degradation, unregulated population movement, low intensity internal conflict, infectious diseases, resource scarcity, natural disasters.
Regional co-operation is essential to tackle all these security threats, and cooperation has increased significantly. But while talking has reduced security threats, the return has been fairly meagre. The willingness to cooperate doesn’t match their rhetoric -- states do not trust each another enough. For its part, Australia has been a key player in security co-operation discussions in Asia, but it has been hedging by tightening its alliance with the US.
The prospects for security cooperation in Asia are not likely to improve anytime soon. The idea that trade and investment, and international institutions, will reduce rivalry and insecurity in international relations is not playing out in Asia.
The ‘lucky, lazy country’ shows how not to win friends in Asia. Alison Broinowski.As the Japanese miracle was succeeded by the Asian tigers and dragons, and China and India, one Asian economy after another came to the rescue of the lucky, lazy country that happened always to be in the right region at the right time. Yet the more Australia prospers from Asian demand for our resources, goods and services, the less empathy we seem to display towards our region.
We still invest more elsewhere. We waste our wealth on unwinnable wars of our allies’ making, without consulting others in the region about why they see no need to fight them. We insult neighbouring countries such as Malaysia by choosing them as the most unappealing places of deportation of refugees. We also allow a generation of teachers of Asian languages and cultures to age without replacement. Australia is seen in the region as hostile, threatening and unwelcoming, and disengaged from Asian affairs, says John McCarthy, formerly Ambassador to five Asian countries. Australians are “insular internationalists” who travel but are seen to ignore the world, according to Michael Wesley.
In late September the Chinese People’s Daily warned unnamed countries which “think as long as they can balance China with the help of the United States military power, they are free to do whatever they want” may have another think coming. That includes what China classifies as “small and weak countries” like Australia. Australia needs to strike a better balance between forging meaningful links with Asian countries, and managing relationships with older allies.
How Australian aid in Asia can benefit those at home. Matthew Clarke.Australia is a generous donor. Non-government organisations receive around $1 billion a year from the public. The Australian Government's international aid program provides around $4.5 billion in official development assistance, predominantly to the Asia-Pacific region. And it’s slated to increase to around 0.5 of gross national income by 2015.
Aid is largely targeted towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and so focuses on poverty reduction, education, women and children’s health as well as water and sanitation. But aid can also be utilised in a manner in which national interests are given primacy over poverty reduction. As the Australian aid program continues to expand, there may be increased pressures to use it more for national interests. It will be important to get the balance right.
Learning to live in the Asian Century. Kathe Kirby.Five year olds starting school today enter the workforce in 2030, just at the time when China and India resume their position as the world’s top economic powers. Asia knowledge, skills and understandings, or “Asia literacy”, equips young Australians to harness these opportunities, provides Australia with the skill-set to resolve global issues and ensures young people have the mind-set to strengthen social capital through understanding what it means to be Australian today.
So how are we doing? The good news is that for the first time national school education policy is in place to progress Asia literacy. But the results are meagre. In 2010, only eighteen percent of Australian school students were studying an Asian language, decreasing to fewer than six percent by senior high school. A scant 300 students, who do not have a Chinese background, are currently studying Chinese at senior high school. On current trends, no senior high school students will be studying Indonesian by 2020. Japanese has declined twenty percent since 2005 and Korean is taught in very few schools. At university, Asian language enrolments are declining in all but Mandarin Chinese, where the increase is attributed to international and heritage student enrolments. Most students in other developed countries exit schooling with two or more languages in order to leverage the opportunities of their interconnected world. Only a very small proportion of senior students study any content about Asia.
Radical innovation in the way languages are taught is required. A significant investment in teacher knowledge and skills is also necessary. Governments have a choice: leverage the momentum and accelerate Asia literacy through continued investment, or risk inevitable decline of progress – a pattern that has occurred regularly over the past two decades.
Colombo Plan: An initiative that brought Australia and Asia closer. David Lowe.Launched in 1951, the Colombo Plan for aid to South and Southeast Asia sponsored Asian students in Australia, and brought us closer to our Asian neighbours. But the Colombo Plan gradually withered away as full fees were introduced for overseas students in Australian tertiary institutions from the mid-1980s. It is time to revive the spirit of the Colombo Plan.
Why Australia’s trade relationship with China remains at ground level. James Laurenceson.China is by far our most important export destination, with merchandise exports growing at an average annual growth rate over the past five years of 29.1%. But despite these encouraging numbers, our export performance to China is far less impressive than many people think. Two-thirds of merchandise exports are minerals, in particular, iron ore. Exports of services to China are also heavily concentrated in just two areas, tourism and education.
In other words, Australia's export “success” to China is not as a result of hard won competition stemming from technical innovation and value-adding. Australia does well exporting iron ore because so few other countries have such high-grade iron ore. An export strategy that relies on minerals cannot last forever. Moreover, it has fewer linkages to the rest of the economy than does manufacturing. And the success of exports from the mining sector comes at a cost to exports from other sectors, such as manufacturing, through higher input costs and a stronger Australian dollar.
Finding the balance between India and China in the Asian ‘concert of powers’. Sandy Gordon.Leading Australian analysts such as Hugh White and Coral Bell have advocated for China and India to be inducted into a “concert of powers” that would also include the United States, Japan and Russia. They argue that such a concert, which involves an informal agreement between members not to challenge unduly the status quo, and to commit to working together to solve regional problems, would hopefully mitigate the concerns that might otherwise be associated with China’s rise.
Within this structure, only the biggest and most powerful players would have a seat at the table and individual members would be kept in line by the possibility that the others would set up a power balance against them. The East Asia Summit, which includes these countries, Australia and ASEAN members, could be a useful start on the road towards a ‘concert of powers’. Australia could give the East Asia Summit stronger support as the key regional institution.
Asian Century Institute