INDEPENDENT, RATHER THAN EUROCENTRIC AUSTRALIA
First published in Chung Wah News, Western Australia, October 1997
There are encouraging signs that Australia is emerging as an independent, rather than Eurocentric nation in Asian affairs, and is regarded as such. Australia differed significantly from American or European positions when she attended the swearing in of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong; she distinguished (though not compromises) human rights and trade; engaged in military exchanges with Asian countries including China; and above all participated in a billion dollar rescue of Thai currency. Ethics aside, Australia is demonstrating its maturity, taking into account her national interest as well as values and perspective of Asian neighbours much more than Europe and America, who still regard Asian nations as "Far East" countries. The foreign policy paper as well as on-going efforts to change its official United Nations alignment with Western European powers to an Asia Pacific grouping is the latest episode.
In this respect, the issue of whether Australia needs to choose between her history and geography is hypothetical and irrelevant. As we know earlier migrants and their descendants were systematically deprived of contacts with neighbouring nations through the White Australia policy. It is hence not too surprising that this lack of knowledge and contact brings about a sense of unease and discomfort, combined with a sense of nostalgia or loss for some, and a lack of confidence in dealing with Asians to others. The more they felt "protected and secure" during the White Australian era, the more they felt "exposed" and "unprepared" when it ended. History will record that the policies of past governments significantly contributed to the root cause of present racial intolerance amongst certain people. After all the White Australia Policy only ended two decades ago!
Coupled with this, Australians who formed part of the colonial empire elites in Asian countries as well as Papua New Guinea, sometimes acquired a "Master-Servant" or "expatriates" mentality, which disadvantaged their ability to deal in Asian affairs objectively.
It is pleasing to note that present generations of Australians, in particular the younger members are learning to be much more appreciative and tolerant of others. Awareness to the fact that other cultures and civilisations exist in this world from early school age, they are more comfortable with coexistence of various backgrounds and ideas. Exposure to the realities of racial issues such as mutual respect and appreciation creates a healthy environment. As they learn to treat all people as equals, their attitude will be reciprocated, free of any residual colonial or White Australian connotations.
In this matter our role as parents is of critical importance. We owe them a duty and responsibility to present the argument from different angles, highlighting our perspective, comparing the differences and similarities in human thoughts and values.
Humanists such as Princess Diana and Mother Theresa are revered throughout the world, because they demonstrated that kindness of heart cuts across racial and cultural divides. Their dedication to their cause, caring nature of work and above all inter-personal relationships testify to their beliefs. By discarding comfort and luxury to work amongst the poorest in India, Mother Theresa demonstrated the inner qualities of a fine humanist. Princess Diana also set an unprecedented example. As the mother of the future King of Britain and Australia, she sent a powerful message to all Australians in her personal relationships, that the dimension of race is secondary or immaterial. The quality of the individual, rather than racial origin, is of utmost consideration.
It is precisely along these lines that Australia needs to reconcile between its history and geography. This is unlikely to be a distinctive. immediate, straightforward choice between our historical past and geographical realities, but a long term, continual, evolutionary shift. It is unlikely to be coerced, imposed upon by politicians or opportunists. Events will most likely take their own course, set their own pace, dictated by the changing demographic populations of Australia, moulded by its gradual and eventual acclimatisation to the region, as well as the changing situations in Europe and Asia.
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