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Published in Asia Times (Australia) 27th October 2006

What constitutes Asia? Opinions vary amongst West Australians. Traditionally Europeans tend to regard Asia as a land mass, distinct from Europe. Turkey, for example, sits between Asia and Europe, as tourist would literally stride across Europe and Asia.  Indeed Turkey is not the only country that strides between Europe and Asia. People familiar with Russia would know that this huge country stretches from Eastern Europe. From there she cuts across much of Asia, sharing border with Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan as well as East Asian countries such as Mongolia, China and Japan. Russia is a country that truly occupies Europe and Asia land masses. In this respect the concept of Europe and Asia as distinct land masses would be a myth, unless we ignore the Russian reality.

Some tend to regard land east of the Suez Canal as Asia. If this definition is adopted, is Israel part of Asia? Interestingly the Israeli Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Naftali Tamir was quoted as saying (The Weekend Australian Oct 14-15, 2006) that “Israel and Australia are like sisters in Asia... We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians…Asia is basically the yellow race, Australia and Israel are not – we are basically the white race”.

Though most Western Australians could identify East Asia (Japan, China, Mongolia, the Koreas), South East Asia, South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka), as well as West Asia (the Middle East); countries such as Afghanistan and Central Asia tend to be left out.

The UN website (http://www.un.org/Depts/Cartographic/map/profile/centrasia.pdf)

identifies Central Asia as Kazakstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The largest contiguous empire in the World, the Mongol empire, created by Genghis Khan in 1206, stretched from China to the Danube!

Little is known amongst Western Australians about these countries. Kazakstan is perhaps better known as an important energy provider to the rest of the World, with its huge oil and natural gas reserves.

Various sub-groups are emerging within the Asian scenario.

ASEAN (Association of South East Asian) was formed on August 8, 1967, comprising countries in South East Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. It has been enlarged to include Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam.

The ASEAN region has a population of about 500 million, a total area of 4.5 million square kilometers, a combined gross domestic product of almost US$ 700 billion, and a total trade of about US$ 850 billion. In 2003, the ASEAN Leaders resolved that an ASEAN Community shall be established comprising three pillars, namely, ASEAN Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. In recognition of security interdependence in the Asia-Pacific region, ASEAN established the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1994. 

(ASEAN website www.aseansec.org/64.htm).

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, values and perspective of Asian neighbours.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a permanent intergovernmental international organisation proclaimed in Shanghai on June 15, 2001 by six countries - People’s Republic of China, Russian Federation, Republic of Kazakhstan, Republic of Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Tajikistan and Republic of Uzbekistan. It was established on the basis of the "Shanghai Five" mechanism.

The total area occupied by the SCO member states is about 30 million 189 thousand square kilometers, or about three fifth the territory of Eurasia, with a population of 1.455 billion people, or about a quarter of total population of the world.

(The SCO website http://www.sectsco.org/html/00026.html)

Other then regional groupings, bilateral relationship such as the possible emergence of “CHINDIA”, the Sino-Indian Axis (economically, politically or otherwise), would signal a Global Juggernaut.

These regional blocks, bilateral or multilateral cooperation have far reaching consequences, and are shaping and unfolding as we speak.

Asia is the cradle to the major religions in the World, including Bahai, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism. It is the home of three of the ancient civilisations from Babylon, China and India.

Western Australia is important to the ASIAN countries, reflected in the number of countries setting up their consulate in Perth. They include China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, as well as Sri Lanka.

As the Western Australia destiny is to a certain degree inextricably linked to Asia, it is in our interests to understand these countries, the forces at work, as well as personalities and events that would shape the region.

We are blessed with migrants from all parts of ASIA, who would undoubtedly contribute to better link between Western Australia and their countries of origin. The connectivity that they bring to Western Australia is invaluable and cannot be underestimated.

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