FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Sharif ShujaNews Weekly
How closer Asian ties benefit Australia
, March 24, 2001
Geography and economics dictate a closer association with Asia. And, as Sharif Shuja explains, looking East does not mean repudiating the West.
As the 21st century begins, Australia is facing some important political and economic questions. These are about the future directions of Australia's multicultural society, its place in the world and the region and especially its relationships with our Asian neighbours. These matters are very much interrelated.
Will Australia find its future direction and identity through closer economic and political integration with Asia?
How far should Australia try to maintain, and indeed consolidate, its cultural and trading links with Europe; especially in the light of the forces making for closer economic and political integration within Europe itself ? For Australians, the task now really is to balance our traditional links with Europe, with the necessity to come to terms with our place in Asia.
The issue of Australian identity in the context of discussion of Australia's Asian future is raised by the suggestion that Australia is or should become "part of Asia". Stephen FitzGerald believes that our intellectual efforts have been focused too exclusively on the bonanzas from the "economic miracles" being performed by the newly industrialised Asian countries.
He considers that Australians have been too lazy to grasp the fact that "the Asian challenge for Australia is not economic or commercial. It is intellectual and the issues are political and cultural".
The Asians have perceived the superficiality and insensitivities of our "engagement with Asia" and reacted accordingly.
Paul Keating, former Labor Prime Minister, advocates the concept of "Asian enmeshment or engagement". The best outline of Keating's position came in his Singapore lecture in January 1996 when he said: "I've never believed that Australians should describe themselves as Asians or that Australia is or can become part of Asia ... I have said more than once before we can't be Asian any more than we can be European or North American or African. We can only be Australian and can only relate to our neighbours as Australians."
John Howard, the Liberal Prime Minister, of course, insists that Australia is not Asian, that it is not trying to switch cultures. Howard wants a closer relationship with the USA, but says that our links with Asia and the USA are not mutually exclusive - that we can have both.
Enmeshment with Asia or comprehensive and successful engagement with Asia does not mean that Australia becomes an Asian society or tries to switch civilisations. It means, in fact, we become a more pluralistic, multicultural society, more influenced by Asia and, in turn, influencing Asia.
Delivering the inaugural annual address of the Centre for Democratic Institutions (CDI) in Canberra, former Philippines President Fidel Ramos said the Asia-Pacific region was where Australia's future lay and where Australia's security and prosperity may ultimately be decided. In his address, Mr Ramos urged Australia to continue to support democratic values and added that if Australia was to promote tolerance, moderation, compromise and compassion, it must stand up for democratic values in the region.
International relations, including Australia's Asia relations, are increasingly important to Australia. This reflects the international and domestic changes that have linked Australia even more closely to other countries.
Globalisation offers opportunities for internationally competitive economies, but also brings challenges for political and economic management. It has profound implications for trade and economic policy. It blurs the division between foreign and domestic policy, increases competitive pressures in markets, and makes globally-based trade rules and disciplines even more important.Security interests
Australia's national security and its economic interests are inextricably linked to the security and stability of a broad region which encompasses South-East Asia, the South-West Pacific and the Eastern Indian Ocean. It also includes North-East Asia, because the security of South-East Asia cannot be separated from the rest of East Asia and because of the direct consequences of instability in North-East Asia for Australia's well being. Any threat to the security of East Asia would have immediate and adverse effects on Australia's national security and its trade with major export markets.
The potential for developments in the Asia-Pacific region to affect Australia's security and economic interests is the basis for the high priority Australia places on an active role in efforts to ensure regional stability, including its work to put in place and promote international security measures and regimes to underwrite regional security.
South-East Asia, and in particular Indonesia, are areas of importance to Australia's long-term national security. Thus Canberra always gives greater priority in terms of policy attention and resource allocation to this region than to any other.Defence components
The key components of Australia's security strategy are maintaining a strong national defence capability, the security alliance with the United States, developing bilateral defence and security relationships with countries throughout the Asia-Pacific, and strengthening multilateral security links in the region, especially the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Regional Forum (ARF). Sustainable economic growth in the region is also crucial to regional stability.
Regular bilateral security dialogues with countries in the Asia Pacific region, and with key partners beyond the region, are an important element in Australia's security strategies. Those consultations provide an opportunity to share views on a wide range of regional and global security issues.
They complement multilateral mechanisms dealing with global and regional security issues, promote transparency and reinforce Australia's commitment to working cooperatively with regional countries on security issues.
The ARF is an important step towards creating a sense of strategic community in a region where there is little history of inclusive multilateral approaches to security or defence. It also has an important role in encouraging regional support for international regimes against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their missile delivery systems.
Australia is working in the ARF to develop norms of regional behaviour aimed at avoiding conflict and settling disputes without resort to the threat or use of force. Australia is also encouraging the ARF to take a more central role in discussing and managing issues that threaten stability or confidence, and is taking an active role in expanding the ARF's confidence-building agenda. Economic interests
Australia's economic well-being and growth depend on a competitive domestic economy and access to foreign markets. Trade policy, industry policy and economic reform go hand in hand in providing Australian business with the competitive foundations and opportunities to thrive in an increasingly globalised marketplace.
As with Australia's security interests, her economic interests are most closely engaged in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1997-98, 54% of Australia's merchandise exports went to East Asian countries and 72% to APEC members, the destination also for over half of her foreign direct investment. The East Asian market is 18 times larger than Australia's, and imports around $US1,400 billion worth of merchandise each year.
Accordingly, although the East Asian economic crisis will result in slower economic growth for the region in the short term, East Asian markets are and will remain important for Australia.
While the East Asian economic crisis has had a negative impact on Australia's export growth to the region, the relative strength of the domestic economy, the competitive boost it received from a depreciation of the Australian dollar, and its ability to diversify its exports to markets, have prevented more serious repercussions for Australia.
Australia has provided assistance to affected economies, including through contributions to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) assistance packages, and influencing the views and approaches of other Organisations for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries and international financial institutions in addressing country-specific problems in the region.
Australia's response to the East Asian economic crisis has further underscored its position in the region and it is therefore well placed to take advantage of opportunities as the region recovers.
Australian trade policy in relation to Asian countries combines an integrated set of bilateral and regional efforts aimed at achieving the best possible market access outcomes for Australian business and advancing Australia's commercial interests.
To this extent, Australia's trade strategies focus on reducing barriers to Australian goods, services and investment in foreign markets, developing those markets and promoting Australia as a supplier of goods, services and investment. It also involves extensive consultation with Australian business and industry associations.
It is important that all Australians make a conscious effort to see Australian policies and attitudes not only from an Australian viewpoint, but also through the eyes of Asian peoples. This should give some balance to our understanding of regional relationships. We should recognise that we will never sensibly understand other human behaviours if we see them only through the mirror of our own beliefs, values and interests.
Turning our faces to the East does not mean turning our backs on the West. However, an effective foreign policy needs to rest on public understanding and support, especially in a democracy.