Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Regional Studies

Australia in the Asian Century-A Critique of the White Paper

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Regional Studies

Australia in the Asian Century-A Critique of the White Paper

Article excerpt


The White Paper; Australia in the Asian Century (2012), delivered by former Australian Treasury figure Ken Henry, was the first fully elaborated political and strategically focused government document to present the direction and self-perception of Australia's position in relation to the nation's interests in the Asian region. It was also the most comprehensive document of its kind since the 1989 "Australia and the Northeast Asian ascendancy" Garnaut paper, which focused on trade outcomes with the then emerging East Asian giants.

Though Prime Minister Julia Gillard initially claimed that she lacked interest in Foreign Affairs, the document she commissioned addressed a combination of Australian economic assumptions relative to Asian economies and provides insights into Australia's perceived role within this context. The White Paper, which took one year to complete and involved over 150 separate consultations, was released in the midst of global uncertainty, especially with regard to the performance of Asian economies. It was also a paper that sought to address the oft-used explanation of China's role in helping Australia bypass the worst of the global financial crisis since 2008.

Coincidentally, the White Paper was released in the historic week in which both the Chinese and US leadership was being decided. The release of this White Paper also commemorated forty years of diplomatic relations with China. This could be interpreted as recognition that Australia's strategic direction remained firmly tied to markets that are on the one hand, the centre of global growth and on the other, reliant on Australia's mineral commodities.

Certainly, Australia has come a long way since the pre-1945 days when its destiny was dependent on the United Kingdom (UK) and the Commonwealth. At that time, not only were more than half of Australia's exports bound for the UK (DFAT, 2002) but Australia's political, strategic and security direction was also firmly based on this historical and ongoing relationship. This Anglocentric mindset ultimately underpinned Australia's entry into the First (Great) and Second World Wars, which remain to this day icons of Australia's national identity. But Britain's place in the world would change dramatically after World War Two and the world would be dominated by the emerging United States and its Cold War tussle with the former Soviet Union. This vulnerability forced Australia to rethink security arrangements within its region and the decisions made at that time have continued to inform security policy as Australia juggles its international commitments with its aspirations for regional prosperity (Bull, 1977; Miller, 1966).

While Europe was the theatre of the Cold War in the west, in the Far East soon after the end of the Second World War, China was the theatre of a social uprising with the People's Liberation Army under the leadership of Mao Tse Tung, creating a new China and setting the stage for an Asian Cold War. From the early 1950s, much of Australia's attention, with its limited military capabilities, was focused on this new entity's emergence on the world stage and especially on the ideological position it represented for regional security. China epitomized a Communist threat to the region and ultimately to "capitalist" countries in the area. Australia was positioned as a beacon of the west and a partner of the new US superpower's presence in Asia. The political approach at that time was, therefore, to reject China's rise and rally against this emerging power. Indeed, Australia along with numerous western nations, refused to even acknowledge the presence of the People's Republic of China (PRC) until the Labor government formally recognised it in 1972 (Bull, 1977; Fullilove and Oliver, 2013). It is worth noting, however, that although Australia did not formally recognise Communist China before 1972, Australia did have a strong export relationship with the so-called "Mainland" China, especially in the area of wheat exports. …

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