Tomorrow the Prime Minister will launch the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper. This document, which will plot a way forward for Australia in what is already considered to be the “Asian Century”. It will act as the government’s version of a SWOT analysis. The paper will examine the real internal strengths of Australia and external factors that lead that do contribute to our strengths as we continue to engage in the region. The paper will also look at our weaknesses in terms of trade in particular, but also security. The paper will look at the opportunities for Australia in the Asian century, with whom we can engage more to our benefit. Finally, the document will also look at the threats in the region.
In a way, the Asian Century White Paper is behind the times. Trade with Asia already makes up about 70% of Australia’s international trade. This makes it appear clear, as do public statements, that the blueprint is more about the rise of China and to a lesser extent India, than it is about looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that exist in the Asia-Pacific area. As such, the possibilities of greater relations with the “Asian Tigers” and rapidly growing Asian economies will likely not receive much press.
This examination will look mostly at the bilateral activities Australia undertakes currently, could enhance or could begin to participate in and less at the specific domestic policy directions necessary to cope with living in a strong and prosperous Asia.
Undoubtedly, the Asian White Paper will say that China is the country, above all others to focus our energies on. You would be hard-pressed to find many who would say otherwise. We need China and they need us. Our commodities are prized by China and we source cheap goods from the Asian powerhouse, now the second biggest economy in the world after overtaking struggling Japan. To this end, concluding Free Trade Agreement negotiations with China is an absolute must.
Some will have you believe that China also serves as one of the great uncertainties of the Asian Century. “Reds under the beds” is not a worry that should be occupying the mind’s of our people. China’s continued growth will almost certainly be one of peaceful empire. Their growth is because of the embrace of market economics and China is communist in name and some aspects of internal behaviour only. The military build-up in China is entirely consistent with the growth of the country as a world power and countries like the United States of America have nothing to fear except for loss of economic dominance.
In terms of Japan, our second largest trading partner, the future of the economic relationship at least is not as certain. The economy of Japan has been battered by high levels of debt, natural disasters and unstable economic leadership. In saying this though, the relationship with the nation of islands should be maintained with caution and buttressed by increasing economic cooperation with other nations in the region. However, it is in our interests to continue to proceed with free trade negotiations with the Japanese.
Trade relations with South Korea continue to be strong with the nation, as of 2011, being our 3rd biggest export market. We have commenced Free Trade Agreement negotiations with Korea, but the discussions have hit the final hurdle. The agreement was supposed to have been concluded by now, but negotiations are ongoing.
Our next biggest market, is also our second biggest opportunity as the growth of Asian economies explodes. That nation is India. This is a nation with economic growth to rival that of China. While India is not in a position to rival China in terms of the size of her economy, India does provide opportunities. This includes, somewhat contentiously, uranium exports which are now being negotiated and also the restoration of Indian confidence in Australia’s safety for the large overseas student and tourism market the nation of the subcontinent can and has provided. Finalising the Australia-India Comprehensive Economic Agreement is also a necessary step in continuing to open up India to Australia and vice versa.
There are other nations of Asia in the list of our top 10 training partners too. In fact, Asian countries make up more than half of those nations. Also in the top 10 is Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand. With both Singapore and Thailand we have established Free Trade Agreements. However, in the case of Taiwan, there is no economic agreement being negotiated, awaiting approval or in force. Perhaps an opportunity lies there, perhaps we are frightened to pursue one for fear of causing China offense or perhaps our priorities are not mutual.
There are also other Asian states that are outside of the 10 biggest Australian trading partners with which we have already or are in the process of negotiating or approving FTA’s. There is an ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement which includes Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. This includes nations such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia with whom we either have individual FTA’s or are in the process of either negotiating or seeking domestic approval for.
In a broad sense, continuing to pursue the recently commenced negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is also a must and will only enhance economic relations with both Asia and other parts of the world.
So in terms of economic cooperation in the Asian region and into the Asian century, the task is not really to establish new markets, but rather to consolidate and build upon those already available to Australia. In the case of the services sector in particular the task is returning it to the vitality we know. Particularly in the case of tourism this will be a lot easier when the price of the dollar lowers and economies recover.
In terms of economic engagement with Asia and the focus that it is given, it is a positive but has the potential to be a negative from time to time. Putting too many eggs in the Asian basket might expose us to regional shocks. So far, with the economic activities we undertake in Asia though, we have managed to avoid major damage to our economy when other countries in the Asia-Pacific have not been spared. But the possibility of exposure to risks should still be in the front of the mind’s of our policy-makers.
New Zealand and the other Pacific Island nations must also factor into the Asian equation. They are as much a part of Asia as we are. New Zealand is our greatest ally in the Asia-Pacific region, a long-term friend and economic partner and we will continue to share and grow our economic relationship and broader bilateral relations with her.
In terms of security, the most volatile place in the Asian region, the place that has the potential to most impact on our security, is Indonesia. Enhancing current cooperation with Indonesia on counter-terrorism efforts is a must. However, this must not be at the expense of combating homegrown terrorism on Australian soil.
It is certain that we will be seen to be deeply connected with the USA . We can, will and should make clear that our actions in the region will be peaceful and aimed at trade and our ongoing security, rather than offensive actions and manoeuvres that constitute a threat.
In terms of China, as stated earlier, it has been quite easy for some to classify the economic growth and consequential militarisation of China as a threat. This eventuality though, as stated before, appears hard to fathom. On the other hand, disputes involving China and her nearer neighbours, currently festering, do have the potential to develop into problems for those nations. By and large, these are conflicts Australia can remain independent of.
With regard to people movements, Indonesia as well as Sri Lanka and Malaysia will remain central to our efforts in cutting down on irregular people movement. We would be foolish to ever imagine that we as a country or even the wider Asian region could solve the complex issue that is asylum seeker movements.
Later on in the Asian century it is also reasonable to keep in mind the potentially significant movement of people in our region brought about by climate change. The scale of this is hard to calculate, but the prospect must be factored into equations. Australia as a rich and prosperous country would be expected to take up the majority of the resettlement burden in such circumstances.
Overwhelmingly the opportunities for Australia in the Asian Century are good. The positives far outweigh the negatives. We must however be careful of too much dependence on the region and too much nation specific interaction within the Asia-Pacific.
We must think, for the century ahead, well beyond commodities and to sources of renewable energy. An ongoing and healthy services sector is also a must as resources begin to diminish.
There is the possibility of regional instability, but much of that should not have consequences for Australia. The major threat will continue to be terrorism with hatred fomented and potential non-state actors trained in Indonesian camps in particular.
We will be seen as one of America’s deputies in the Asia-Pacific, along with South Korea and Japan as well as New Zealand to some extent. In reality though, this should not colour the way we interact in our geographical region nor the way in which our peaceful advances are received.
People movement will continue to be something Australia experiences for as long as there is security and economic concerns in nations around the world. Later in the century this will probably be exacerbated by climate change, particularly in the low-lying areas of the Asia-Pacific.
Australia must not be happy with the status quo. Moving towards greater engagement and cooperation not just in Asia, but the world, is the answer to making the most of the opportunities and the threats that we and the region already experience and may encounter in the future.
Finally, after years of discussion about the importance of economic and stronger diplomatic ties with India it appears that all the talk has transformed into action. Prime Minister Julia Gillard, on a trip to India today announced that Australia would seek to give the relationship with India the same level of attention and significance as ties with Japan, Korea and Indonesia. Relations have been held back recently, including over a reluctance on Australia’s part, until recently, to sell uranium to India and also as a response to a number of violent attacks on Indian students.
There is no doubt that India, the second largest country by population and world’s largest democracy can be the source of abundant opportunity, economically and culturally. But the benefits of a greater engagement with India are not one way, greater trade and engagement will be mutually beneficial if harnessed to their full potential.
At present the relationship is worth close to $20 billion to Australia and in beginning bilateral free trade talks with the south-Asian country, the Trade Minister, Craig Emerson signalled intentions to double that figure to $40 billion. The intentions there are great and working towards that outcome is an important process that needs to be facilitated.
As part of the trip so far, a headline-stealer above and beyond anyone of the economic issues so far, was announced by Julia Gillard. The Australian Government would be conferring membership of the Order of Australia on Sachin Tendulkar.
It is unclear what benefit this act of ‘soft diplomacy’ will have as we pursue more mutual interests with the subcontinental nation. If anything, the benefit will be the temporary winning of brownie points as we seek to increase our cultural and trade ties with India. To that end, it is useless if not back up with firm and substantial commitments to further the bilateral arrangements between Australia and India.
The journey to India is all about catching up on lost time in the relationship between our two countries. For too long it has been pushed too much to the side, even not pursued at times, especially in the wake of acts of violence on Indian students which were quickly characterised in the media here and in the subcontinent as acts of racial violence.
Far from just focusing on the temporary and largely superficial effects of giving Sachin Tendulkar an honour usually reserved for Australians and the dubious and troublesome trade in uranium, an equal focus on trade in a broader range of commodities and on the services side of our economy is entirely necessary.
India too has much to offer, not the least of which is a well-educated and competitively-priced technology sector.
It has been claimed that the pursuit of greater bonds with India is to act as a counterbalance in the region to the rise of China which, while entirely peaceful, has drawn varying levels of concern from different countries.
Frankly, that is absolute nonsense. Trade with India will in no way have any effect, positive or negative, on the relationship with China. Yes, both India and China have different forms of government, but that just does not play as a factor in necessary trading relationships.
There will also be no time, even in the most distant future where India would eclipse China in economy size.
If we are to further ties with India, then what was described today as a “standing invitation” for the Indian Prime Minister to travel to India will need to become a formal invitation asking Mr Singh to visit Australia. It has been far too long, nearly 26 years in fact, since the last visit of an Indian leader to our shores.
There is much work to be done in the relationship with India and the task is made harder because of the indifference and at times outright lack of interest in growing the limited economic and friendship ties between our two nations. The misaligned tyres from hitting potholes encountered along the way have also been neglected for too long and what could have been an easy repair job were their immediate attention, now requires a look at the axles.
With the 2012 London Paralympics getting ever closer by the day and the weekend fast approaching us it’s time to have a look at another sport that will feature at the Paralympics.
This week we take a look at the sport of Sitting Volleyball.
This variation of Volleyball has been a part of the Summer Paralympics since the event in 1980 held in the Netherlands where it was first introduced into the competitive schedule for men. Women’s Sitting Volleyball took a little longer (two decades in fact) before it was introduced at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens.
WHO CAN PLAY?
Unlike many other sports for people with a disability, the sport does not classify athletes in a variety of different groupings according to physical disability. Instead, participants in the sport must meet minimal disability requirements as identified by one or more medical practitioners who are sanctioned to determine the level of disability that potential athletes have.
The disability must be permanent and it can include amputees, people with spinal cord injuries, Cerebral Palsy and les autres (‘the others’), that is, people that do not have a disability that fits into other identified categories of impairment.
When classified, participants are either deemed to have one of two levels of disability, either classified as disability (D) or minimal disability (MD). Only two people classified as having minimal disability are allowed in a team.
ON THE COURT
Sitting Volleyball is played between two teams where there are no more than 6 players on the court at any time and no more than 12 are in the entire team.
Each team is only permitted to have one of their two players classed as having minimal disability on the court at any one time.
The players must all sit on the modified Volleyball court where among other things the net is at a lower level (1.15m for men and 1.05m for women), the court is smaller.
The game is commenced like it’s counterpart with a serve.
Front-row players are allowed to block a serve.
Front-row players must have their pelvis in contact with the floor
Defensive players can assist in an attacking move but cannot cross or touch what is known as the attacking line with their pelvis.
Defensive players in attempting to stop a ball from bouncing in their side of the court are allowed to temporarily lift up off the court past the regular pelvis rule.
The ball can only be touched 3 times before it must go over the net into your opponent’s court.
The game at the Paralympic level has an added special player called a ‘libero player’. This team member is a special defensive player who can be “subbed on” during a stop in play to replace a person on the back court. They are identified because they must wear a different coloured uniform to the rest of the team.
HOW TO WIN
The game is best of 5 sets with the first 4 sets requiring 25 points to win and the final set a score of 15 to triumph.
In the men’s competition the defending champion from the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing is Iran and in the women’s draw the winner and defending champion from Beijing was the home team, China.
A VIDEO OF THE GAME
Here is a YouTube link showing the fast-paced game that is Sitting Volleyball:
With the London Paralympics nearing commencement it’s time to have a look at another of the 21 sports that will be a part of the 2012 Games. After taking a look at the rough and tumble of Wheelchair Rugby, otherwise known as ‘Murderball’ it’s time for a change of pace and time to look at the rather unique sport of Goalball.
Goalball is a sport for vision-impaired athletes that was developed to help blind World War II veterans in their post-war rehabilitation. It became a Paralympic sport at the 1980 Paralympics after being a demonstration event at the 1976 event.
A game of Goalball consists of two teams of 3 visually impaired athletes, with one centre player and two wingers on each team. Three substitutes are also permitted.
The athletes with a lower level of blindness wear blindfolds when competing in the sport which allows for less visually impaired athletes to compete in the sport with people that have a higher level of blindness.
THE GAME ITSELF:
The game is played by the teams participating taking turns at rolling or throwing a ball that has a bell in it toward their opponents goal with the aim of the defensive team being to block the ball, by listening to where the bell sound is coming, from going into the goal at their respective end of the field.
The players must throw the ball within 1o seconds or an infraction has occurred.
The game has two 10 minute halves.
Possession is generally lost if a player throws the ball before the match official has indicated for play to begin, if the ball goes over the sideline, or the ball rebounds off a defending player, crossbar or goalposts and goes back over the centre line.
For more serious rule breaches a penalty throw is awarded if:
- Players interfere with their eyeshades
- Excessive noise is created which distracts from the ability to hear the bell in the ball
- If coaching comes from the benches after the referee has said “quite please”
- The ball does lands short of the opponents court, too long or too high
- Not being in team area when defending your goal line
- Delaying the game in a deliberate manner
- If the same player throws the ball for a 3rd time in a row
- For conduct against the spirit of the sport
When a penalty is awarded only one defender is allowed on the court, effectively like a football goalkeeper during a penalty shootout.
THE DEFENDING CHAMPIONS:
At the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, the women’s Goalball final was won by the United States of America in a very tight match with the USA prevailing over host nation China 6-5.
The men’s gold medal match was won by the Chinese team over Lithuania after being two goals down with less than a minute to go in the game, closing the gap and winning by one in the end.
The bronze medal was won in the men’s competition by the Swedish team and by the Danish team in the women’s event.
Australia, way back over 200 years ago from the time of the First Fleet literally grew as a nation “on the sheep’s back”. As a nation Australia began to grow a broader agriculture sector which included a diverse combination of crops across particularly along the length of the eastern mainland states of Queensland, New South Whales and Victoria. That sector also included other animals in addition to sheep, with cattle and dairy farming playing a crucial role in the early economy.
Indeed agriculture does still play a crucial role in our economy albeit a much diminished one in recent decades with our comparative standing in various exports dropping markedly in some cases.
In the global community Australia is among the biggest exporters in the world of wheat, beef, wool and dairy and our three biggest exports are grain/oilseeds, meat and dairy that has obviously been the case for a prolonged period of time, given the industries on which Australia established itself as a fledgling colony and then nation state in the 1900s.
Agriculture in Australia now sits at only a 3% share of GDP in itself and last night Prime Minister Julia Gillard made a speech to the Global Foundation conference in Melbourne where Ms Gillard said she saw Australia becoming a foodbowl power, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, where a rapidly growing population needs increasing access to a variety of different food imports.
The Prime Minister in her speech last night said that Australia should harness our potential in agriculture, like we did in the past and like the mining sector is now harnessing the potential of our vast mineral wealth.
There is certainly a space for Australia to grow its agriculture sector again, particularly when faced with an economy that at present is powering along on resources which are finite, but the way we do it and the markets and niches we seek to develop as a nation are a lot more intricate than just producing and distributing food across our region and the world.
Prime Minister Gillard in her speech to the foundation did acknowledge that Australia would have to focus its efforts, for the most part, on exporting food products which are value-added, rather than simply trying to up exports of foods that have not undergone the value-adding process.
Australia as a nation simply cannot compete with nations in the region on many basic fruits and vegetables which can be produced in similar climates around our region with much lower input and final product costs than we can achieve in Australia.
We would also tend to be seeking more niche and higher-end markets with our value-added production, thereby in a way limiting just how much we can grow the sector, but still an improvement.
We would have to focus on sending more goods from Australia to countries in our region like China, which is booming and will have a bigger middle class market, as well as countries like South Korea and Japan, even though the latter continues to struggle with economic woes both prior to and exacerbated by the horrific earthquake and tsunami event that destroyed so many lives and areas of the economy with it.
Far from just focusing on Asia, there is huge potential for our food exports to go elsewhere, particularly to the United States of America and Europe in a bigger way than at present and that is being worked on at present in a fairly big, if little discussed way.
There is also huge potential to continue to expand the market for our top class wine, with very few countries in the world producing truly exceptional wines, making this market a great hope for Australian producers. This market could be expanded and is beginning to be delivered to Asia and for that to continue would be a massive boon for the economy.
In a way, it seems that the speech the PM gave last night was a subtle way of saying, “hey, here’s a way that we can keep the decline of manufacturing somewhat at bay if we do more food processing in Australia”.
If we add the processing of food products to the agriculture sector of the Australian economy, we suddenly get a sector that is approximately 12% of Gross Domestic Product, a significant sector by any measure when the services sector takes up over 2/3 of the overall national economy on its own.
So Australia can definitely look to becoming a major food exporter to both the region and the globe. There are various challenges, not the least of which is a water shortage along the Murray-Darling Basin food bowl and this will mean that the challenge to grow our food exports will be a medium to long-term effort, rather than a rapid expansion, which would be difficult in itself anyway even if external factors didn’t exist.
The vision is there, but helping to move the idea to a reality will be a long and enduring process that will require the political will of governments of both political stripes to oversee its development.
Last night the first 200 of what will eventually totally 2500 US Marines arrived in Australia amid mass media attention in the dead of night, backpacks on, firearms strapped to their bodies ready to undertake ongoing joint exercises with their Darwin based Australian counterparts at Robertson Barracks. The first Marine deployment was welcomed at the airport by the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel Warren Snowdon, the US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich and Australian Defence Force brass and other personnel.
Australia and the United States have enjoyed a particularly good relationship since the signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951, of which our southern ocean neighbour, New Zealand is also a part. That agreement was struck in the decade after World War Two where the US fought closely with Australians, including in the northern part of our territory.
This latest announcement and the now commenced deployment will only further that defence and broader bilateral relationship between our two nations as we head toward that much talked about “Asian Century” where greater US involvement in the security and economic activity of the nation is a necessity both for America herself and for the region.
The early days after the announcement brought some public disquiet from China, a nation firmly on the economic and military build-up march toward a modern economic superpower, uncertain just what it may mean for the peaceful bolstering of the military in China that any nation expanding rapidly would see as a necessity and a reality.
Our good friends of late in our region, Indonesia also took to looking at the deal with some scepticism and worry with what a greater US focus in the region may mean for it and those other nations around it.
Yet so far both those nations have been quiet in their commentary on the move as it has begun to proceed to the actual deployment stage of troops which has now begun, with crickets now for some time, even now the talk of the plan has proceeded to action.
This seems to indicate that initial fears have now been quelled by some quiet diplomacy between all the parties, recognising that the move should not be seen as a threat the the economic advancement of any nation.
Back home though, the now commenced US troop deployment will bring Australia another benefit outside of the security and bilateral relationship that such a project fosters and helps build further. This deployment of eventually 2500 US Marines will mean great economic benefits for the Northern Territory, in particular, Darwin.
On one count it will be great for the local small and large businesses around the base where the troops will spend their deployment, with a steady additional income stream of significant numbers now available from a captive audience of troops who will frequent local businesses when recreation time permits.
Not only that, but tourism businesses around the Northern Territory and even those in broader Australia will benefit from the substantial tourist dollars that two and a half thousand troops will bring. US troops, will surely want to visit crocodile farms, wildlife parks and even enjoy the substantial fishing opportunities that exist in the Northern Territory.
The deployment has begun and the complaints seem to have died down markedly to basically non-existent. Now all that is left is for the Australian and United States governments to enjoy the greater cooperation between our two nations and the economic and security benefits that brings. Far and above that, the immense economic benefits should not be ignored and should be celebrated along with the other equally important benefits.
It seems all too often that we hear of decisive action from the global community in major conflicts being stymied by a remarkably undemocratic voting system in the United Nations Security Council. I speak of course of the veto powers possessed by the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council- USA, UK, France, Russia and China for which the architects of the UN and UN Security Council as well as the broader UN membership should be condemned. At the weekend this ridiculous and never relevant system completely lacking in reason, let alone democracy severely impeded action on the bloodshed in Syria which seems to be becoming more rampant and bloody as the hours and days go by.
The veto power in the UN Security Council applies to all motions which are not of a procedural nature means that if just one single permanent member state of the Security Council votes against a motion, the power defeats the vote of all 14 other nations in the Security Council combined. Over the weekend, 2 nations, Russia and China used this power to defeat the motion on Syria put to the Security Council. That is still only 2 nations out of 15 calling the shots- a grand total of 13.3% of the Council determining what action the majority should take.
So what if anything can be done to remedy this sorry abuse of global political power that should never have happened in the first place? And what are the prospects of success?
It is hard to believe that in the aftermath of World War Two, the powers behind the UN developed a system which would concentrate power into the hands of few, rather than into the hands of the mass of nations. The UN was a product of the idea that future war and conflict needed to be stopped after all wasn’t it?
The good news is that it can be changed by a vote, but the good news is brief when you realise that this vote has to reach ridiculously high proportions in both the General Assembly (UNGA) and the Security Council. It is hard to fathom that for there to be any chance at all of a removal of the veto power that the entire Security Council must be in favour of the change and in the UNGA 2/3 of member states must agree.
It is certainly likely that a change could occur if just the General Assembly were to vote on Security Council voting rules with 2/3 of nations in my view easily coming to an agreement that real power should not be concentrated in the hands of just 5 “powerful” nations. On the other hand the UN Security Council voting in favour of a change is just as likely as me becoming US President- I was not born there nor do I live there.
The simple fact is that few nations, if any, currently with the same level power as the “Big 5” would want to give up the immense power they possess to dictate world security terms to suit their own selfish needs and because of the high bar for change, it is stultified before an argument for change can even be mounted.
Sadly, the sorry state of affairs that is the United Nations Security Council is destined to continue forever more. The architects of the global body are the first to blamed and the 5 permanent Security Council member states at the very least are complicit in perpetuating lack of action in many major conflicts in the past and will continue to be well into the future. It is time for this global body to be reformed and to become democratic.