Friday, March 15, 2013

Australia’s Response to the Asian Century

By Sagar Rijal

The continuing shift of economic and political power to Asia in the twenty-first century has prompted varied responses from the incumbent powers. In the advanced Western states questions are being raised about how best to handle the growing power of China and India. The concerns are not limited to inter-state hard power issues. Rather a spectrum of international and domestic policy issues – economic, trade, education, immigration – are at the source of the discussion and debate as countries try to adapt to a world of Asian power.
Australia provides a good case on the variety of responses to the rise of Asian powers. An advanced industrial democracy with a wealthy economy, Australia, due to its history, culture and language identifies itself as a Western nation. However, in terms of geography, economic relationships and emerging migration trends this island nation perceives the impact of rising Asian power acutely. So far this resource-rich country has done well by exporting its natural resources to the voracious needs of China and other Asian states. But in order to remain competitive in the long term, it must diversify its options to build better trading and business relationships with its Asian neighbors. What can Australia do to achieve that?
One recent Australian government policy response has sparked some debate. With the goal of increasing its Asia-related human capabilities, mainly in terms of language training, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government in 2012 mandated that all school students have access to learn at least one Asian language, either Mandarin, Indonesian, Japanese or Hindi. The costs for the program could run into billions.
The benefits of such a program seem great at first blush. Since Asia is going to be Australia’s main market in the coming century, up-skilling its future generations by language training could potentially pay rich rewards in terms of business opportunities for Australians. Social and cultural benefits could also be realized.
But there are thoughtful critics of the expensive program. One such criticism came from Benjamin Herscovitch, a Policy Analyst at the Center for Independent Studies, Sydney, who argued at a lecture given at the Center on February 19th, that such a program in not only an example of governmental overreach but also a solution seeking a program. Mr. Herscovitch’s enumerated a number of ways in which Australia is already blessed with abundant Asia-related capabilities, chief among them being the large number of skilled Asian immigrants that Australia has been able to attract over the years. If the need arose, this pool of talented and native-language fluent Australians could fill the gap. Also there seems to be no demand from businesses for specific language skills to help in their business ventures. According to Mr. Herscovitch, the policy response such as the one promoted by Gillard government is wasteful and unhelpful to the problem at hand.
On analyzing from an higher perspective, one can notice the sense of security that more Asian literacy and engagement provides a country such as Australia, which depends on the U.S. for its security partnership but has a vast trade relationship with China. How Australians manage the delicate balance might be an issue of more than mere language.  
   ~Sagar Rijal, ABD, is spending the final semester of his graduate assistantship doing research for his dissertation in Washington, D.C. Every week he will attend meetings, seminars, or presentations at think tanks and develop a column for the Bulletin community.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting manner in which Australia is expanding its identity to be more inclusive of its neighbors, through language and the accompanying cultural awareness. This contrasts with Malaysia about thirty years ago. Then PM Mahathir sought to strengthen Malaysia's identity by making Malay (Bahasa) the primary language and dropping English from elementary schools. The Chinese and Indian minorities continued to speak their native languages and English as well as Bahasa. After twenty or so years the, then retired, PM declared the policy a costly mistake that disadvantaged the Malay population. The opposite effect he sought. Of the two, Australia is certainly taking the smarter tact.