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.
Have you heard that bit about the European Union? No? It goes a little something like this:
EU walks into Oslo City Hall, takes all the chairs and is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Well, a number of people are viewing the awarding of the Nobel Prize for peace in that manner, a complete and utter joke. But, it’s not quite as farcical as one might think. Does it look good? No, not in particular. It doesn’t really matter what it was given out for, people have made up their own minds about this year’s recipient and their worthiness.
Perhaps the European Union receiving the peace prize was a not so clever ruse perpetrated by the committee, which had the intention of getting people talking about the award again, but that actually backfired?
Let’s begin to put the award in some context. What is the Nobel Peace Prize awarded for? Well, that’s all pretty clear there in italics. It’s about peace, or at least that was the original intention of the honour. The prize has come to mean so much less because the original intent of the this particular Nobel Prize, peace, has not always been behind the gifting of it.
The long-awarded prize has turned into a recognition, not every year, but from time-to-time, of relative peace rather than absolute peace on earth, sleigh-bells jingling and all that jazz.
Again, to the intent of the prize which appears lost on a number of people. It is about peace. The European zone, in case anyone hadn’t noticed, is going through a prolonged period of economic woes. They’re not great money managers, but that is usually a whole different story to being a peaceful or relatively peaceful region. Yes, we have witnessed scenes of less than peaceful protests, but that is slightly different to governments or individuals not promoting a wider form of peace.
Do economic woes sometimes lead to conflict? You bet. But precious few, indeed probably only the most uninformed, are suggesting that scenario carries any legitimate weight.
The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Europe for their post-war efforts in developing the region into a peaceful, relatively secure continent after World War 2. It is a recognition of the huge shift from a politically and geographically divided region into one of relative harmony, regardless of the much less than ideal way the continent decided to go about uniting. It is though entirely arguable that awarding a supranational institution, which has the ability to erode national sovereignty, is a stupid one. Again, it seems to hark back to the Nobel committee rewarding relatively peaceful, secure and democratic recipients.
The European Union being given the award is also just as much about the way in which it has promoted human rights. Few could deny that Europe, partly as a result of the shame wrought by World War 2 acts of barbarity and aggression have fostered a culture promoting the human rights of every citizen. The European Court of Human Rights is an example of one such institution which aims to further the cause of human rights across Europe.
Very few doubt the source of black humour that the award has become. In 2009 the award was bestowed upon the President of the United States of America, a world leader responsible for the increase of drone attacks which have killed countless civilians, among other things. Examples of recipients like this are probably playing a part in clouding the judgement of the masses.
The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to an institution. It is an example of a body set up with the express purpose of promoting human rights. That’s great, but the award should be limited to individuals, or at the very least small groups of individuals that aim to promote peace, security and human rights, governments and governing bodies should do this as a matter of course.
The 2012 award does not look great, but it’s far less humorous than many are making out. It appears there is a need for a vocabulary lesson in order for the difference between economics and peace to be distinguished.
The Prime Minister has arrived in New York for a week of lobbying the nations of the world in order to secure one of two non-permanent seats on the Security Council, the key decision-making body for matters of security, though to describe it as a ‘decision-making’ authority is a bit of a stretch with decisions easily stifled.
The bid, first announced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd four years ago pits us against Finland and Luxembourg, two European powers, with the powerful and large continent of Europe well and truly behind them. It is believed that Australia has secured the support of the majority of Asian, Caribbean and Pacific member countries and will seek to focus on lobbying African nations for remaining votes. The contest, a protracted process that the two European nations were in years before us, has reportedly cost $40 million over the last four years.
So why go ahead with seeking a spot on the Security Council? And is it really worth it, given the roadblocks that decision-making processes within the body face due to the veto powers of the 5 permanent members, who also possess veto powers?
Australia has certainly has a “proud track record of work within the United Nations” as the Prime Minister has said today, with involvement at its peak during the establishment of the UN, the replacement body for the League of Nations that came into being as a result of World War Two. Our involvement was heavy and meant punched well above our weight as a relatively new nation in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
However, in the Security Council world nations have failed, allowing decisions to be blocked so easily by China, Russia, France, the United States of America and the United Kingdom and that’s before you take into account the scale of a vote needed to pass a resolution without a permanent power using their veto.
Our bid, it is true, means greater engagement with the world, but is a bid for a highly flawed institution necessary to achieve greater engagement with the world when major decisions regarding peace and security can be so easily stopped in their tracks by a small number of countries within the Security Council? The answer is a resounding no. $40 million seems a pretty high price to pay for little material difference to the peaceful interactions of nations and between countries and their people.
Not being a part of the Security Council does not mean not engaging with the world, but means going about that engagement from a different direction. No matter what happens, and it seems a high probability we will not secure a temporary seat at the table, we will still be a part of the UN, retaining our seat in the General Assembly. On top of that, we have the World Trade Organisation, the IMF and the World Bank for global interaction, albeit not in peace and security circles, but that does not necessarily need to be the main game on the global for a middle power like Australia.
Australia as a nation outside of the Security Council has involved itself actively in matters of security around the world too, particularly over the last 10 years, interacting more with major powers like the US and the NATO organisation with our efforts in Iraq and currently still in Afghanistan. We’ve also played a major part in peace and security concerns in our region, heavily engaging with Indonesia since the Bali bombings which killed 88 Australians. We’ve also engaged in East Timor and the Solomon Islands, trying to bring independence, peace and democracy to the former and aiming to restore peace and security in the latter.
So really, a place on the Security Council, a temporary one at that, for two years, is redundant. It is so not just because the body itself stifles any action in areas of peace and security, but because Australia as a nation has engaged, most importantly in our direct region in such ventures, but also more globally with the US and NATO in Iraq and Afghanistan. The good news is that we can continue to do that in a more targeted and effective manner from the periphery. Oh, and also, we might not even get there in the first place, what then? The sky won’t fall in.