Australia's Hidden Strength in Asia: Chinese Immigrants

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AUSTRALIA'S decision to allow about 40,000 Chinese students to stay on after the Tiananmen Square massacre six years ago is paying off: They are now helping Australians break into a $450 billion market. So argues a recent government report, touted in an influential business daily as the key to "Vaulting the Wall of China." "Asian Australians are helping us link up to do business in Southeast Asia," says Michael Backman, author of the study on Chinese business networks in Asia. "Non-Asian Australians provide the capital. Southeast Asian Australians provide the networking skills and cultural empathy. We see them as fantastic economic assets to open doors." Most of Australia's 300,000 ethnic Chinese migrated to Australia within the last decade from various countries in Asia, according to the report. In Sydney, Chinese is now the most commonly spoken language after English. "In world trade now you need foreign cultural skills to compete, and one way to get there is to value your ethnic minorities," says Mr. Backman in an interview. "The Japanese and Germans will lose out in the long run because they don't value their own ethnic minorities." Australia does encounter its share of culture clashes, particularly in the rural areas. In a town southwest of Canberra, the capital, for example, storefronts display signs that proclaim "This business is 100 percent Australian-owned." But this is still a far cry from Australia 25 years ago, when the government pursued a "White Australia" immigration policy. "After World War II, Australia wanted to increase its population because of a fear of invasion from the north ... and set up a major immigration program, initially to draw people from Britain," says Andrew Struik, deputy director of the Bureau of Immigration Research. Language tests were used to keep those of the "wrong" race and color out. The policy was not abandoned until 1972. "Just a generation ago, the White Australia policy was still a reality in all but the technical detail," said Prime Minister Paul Keating, as he opened the Global Cultural Diversity conference in Sydney last April. "Now half of our immigrants come from Asia. The encouragement of cultural diversity is much more than an act of benevolence - it is an act of national self-interest," he added. Soft-spoken Joseph Zheng shrugs off the fact that he is now "Exhibit A" in the Australian government's campaign to prove that cultural diversity is good for business. …