Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

AUSTRALIA AND ASIA: The Years of Living Aimlessly

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

AUSTRALIA AND ASIA: The Years of Living Aimlessly

Article excerpt

Mark Beeson

Throughout Australia's relatively brief life as an independent nation, relations with its regional Asian neighbours have been of immense significance. While "Asia" may not always have occupied the place in Australia's foreign policy agenda that its importance has warranted, simple geographical contingency has meant that it was, and is, an unavoidable geopolitical reality that has to be taken seriously. Whether Australian policy-makers like it or not --- and often they do not --- there has been little choice other than to come to terms with the looming mass of Asia to their north.

The precise style and substance of Australian foreign policy has reflected a complex and shifting amalgam of domestic politics and wider external imperatives. One factor that has made a difference in both the direction and effectiveness of Australian policy-making, however, has been the enthusiasm and purposefulness with which such initiatives have been pursued by the ruling political élites of a particular era. In this regard, what is most striking about Australia's Asia-oriented policies in the last few years under the leadership of John Howard's Liberal-National Party coalition government, has been an apparent ambivalence about the process of regional engagement and a consequent lack of focus and direction in foreign policy. In short, policy has often been ad hoc, opportunistic, and aimless. …

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