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Perspective: The Asian Dimension

Published in Asia Times (Australia) 6th October 2006


At the dawning of the Asian century it is timely to look at the Asian dimensions in Western Australia.


Australia is unique in the World, in that she has a European heritage, but geographically “married” to Asia. This unique combination of historical background, nurtured values and proximity to Asia would produce a new set of perspective over time.


Australian multi-cultural society is reflected by the presence of migrants from virtually every region and countries in the world. Successive waves of immigrations, refugees or not, have contributed to transform a traditional, predominantly Anglo-Celtic culture into modern Australian. This is evident in Western Australian suburbs and work places, where we see migrants as neighbours, colleagues, teachers, students, fellow church / mosque / temple worshipers, or just friends.


Only three countries in the world rely on massive immigration in their nation building process. The United States, Canada and Australia each developed their immigration policies, dictated by internal as well as International circumstances. (Israel, the other country with massive immigration for nation building, is largely confined to one race only).


The U.S. adopts a "melting pot" policy, where succeeding generations gradually "melt" or "merge" into an American identity, acquiring more and more American values and culture. However comments arising from the New Orleans Katrina typhoon suggest that the dreams of Martin Luther King still have a long gestation period. The Blacks and Hispanics have yet to fully "melt" into the overall American "pot".


Canada, due to its historical circumstances, has a bilingual and bi-cultural (English and French) situation. It is worth noting that the Canadian Natives have staked their claims, challenging the rights of the English or French to dictate the country's history.


Australia adopts a multicultural approach, rather than assimilation or integration. A series of policies such as "equal opportunities", "anti-discrimination", “racial vilification” etc. reinforce this commitment. While certain countries outlaw or discourage anything other than the official language, the use and development of languages in Australia are actively encouraged. Ethnic schools in Western Australia receive grants from both the Commonwealth and State governments. Languages other than English are taught at government primary and high schools. Vernacular newspapers, websites and magazines are limited only by their readerships or finance. SBS broadcast news in several languages. In this respect we salute the early statesmen who nurtured this spirit of tolerance and respect for others in our society. The climate of acceptance in Western Australia is much better here than that found in several other countries, including countries where some of our Asian residents come from. In the final analysis a harmonious cultural identity should be nurtured, it cannot be coerced, as History bears witness to this truth.


Compared to the Europeans and Americans, who view Asia as “Far East”, Western Australians are more sophisticated in their perception of Asia; they are able to identify regions such as North Asia, Indian Sub-continent; some are even able to specify countries and capitals. Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Vietnamese are taught in Western Australian schools as part of the LOTE (Language other then teaching of English) programs. Aspects of Asian culture, such as Yoga, Tai Chi, Karate, Taekwando, Wushu (Chinese martial arts) are practiced not only by the Asian community, but widely accepted by others. The same applies to cuisines, be it Chinese, India, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese or Indonesian, just to name a few.


Among Australian states and territories, Western Australia, in particular, is arguably more linked to Asia through geographical proximity, trade, employment opportunity, education, and increasingly people-to-people contacts. It is also the state that would share the impact of natural phenomena such as tsunami, climate change, pollution due to forest burning, migratory birds, etc with our Asian neighbours. Our long-term success will depend to a large degree upon our geo-political ‘connectivity’ with Asia in terms of trade, foreign direct investment and cultural relations. 


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