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ASIA TIMES

WESTERN AUSTRALIA AND ASIA

Published in Asia Times (Australia) 20th October 2006

 

There are encouraging signs that Australia is emerging as an independent, rather than Eurocentric nation in Asian affairs, and is regarded as such. This reflects a total change since the end of “White Australian Policy” only three decades ago.

 

Australia differs significantly from American position in dealing with China, opting for dialogue rather than confrontation. As early as 1974 Australia became ASEAN's first dialogue partner. Australia and New Zealand were invited for the first East Asian Summit in December 2005, the only “European” countries to be invited. (Australia's presence was only confirmed after Australia reversed its previous policy and agreed to execute ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation). In this respect Australia is demonstrating its maturity and political reality, taking into account her national interest as well as values and perspective of Asian neighbours.

 

This is particularly so at the Western Australian level. The government is well aware of the critical importance of trade with Asia, in particular supply of mineral, energy, and agricultural resources to China, Japan and India. Numerous ministers, senior government officials and bureaucrats have visited Asian countries. Countless trade missions to and from Asian countries are organized each year. Our shops are increasingly filled with products made in Asian countries, ranging from Japan, China, to Malaysia, Vietnam, etc.

 

Each year hundreds of Asian students graduate from Western Australian universities, TAFE colleges, Tuart / Canning Colleges, as well as private institutions. Students from China and India top the list of foreign student numbers.

 

The Malaysian Prime Minister received an Honorary Doctorate of Technology from Curtin University (see picture); the son of the Indonesian President also graduated from Curtin. It is not surprising that some of the future political leaders or business elites from Asia would have graduated from Western Australia!

 

The move is reciprocal. China, in particular, has set up a series of initiatives. Rather than setting up the third consulate in Queensland, the Chinese consulate was set up in Perth several years ago.  It has also built its own permanent home in East Perth, a move regarded by the former Premier, Dr. Geoff Gallop as a “long term commitment” to the State. The opening of the first Confucius Institute in Australia between Zhejiang University and the University of Western Australia signifies mutual interest in promoting Chinese language and culture; the recent launch of China Chamber of Commerce in Australia further strengthens trade and commercial ties, reinforcing the Western Australian Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Australia China Business Council.

 

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. They are free from the psyche of some Australians who formed part of the colonial empire elites in Asian countries such as Papua New Guinea, with their "Master-Servant" or "expatriates" mentality, which disadvantaged their ability to deal in Asian affairs objectively.

 

Awareness to the fact that other cultures and civilisations exist in this world from early school age, the younger generation is 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 go through the same education program with Asian residents, they learn to treat all people as equals; their attitude will be reciprocated, free of any residual colonial or White Australian connotations.

 

It is precisely along these lines that we need to reconcile between its history and geography. This is unlikely to be a distinctive, immediate, straightforward, decisive choice between our historical past and geographical realities, but a long term, gradual, 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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