The Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, launched at the end of last year with great fanfare, has received justifiable accolades and some modest criticisms, as one would expect with a 360-page document and broad interest, writes Australia China Connections publisher, Carl Jetter.
Ken Henry, the author of the paper and his advisory team deserve compliments in respect to the breadth of industry sectors and groups they invited to participate.
Its content clearly advocates opportunities and challenges for Australia and our relationships with our Asian neighbours.
Since its release I have attended several seminars and presentations relating to the White Paper, and is clear the majority of emphasis is on how Australia – in particular the business community – should be better engaging with its Asian neighbours.
I heard statements such as: “We have to learn to focus more, and be better at, doing business with our Asian neighbours if we don’t want to lose out to competing Western countries.” And: “ Our government needs to improve its ability in understanding how best to deal with Asian countries.”
That may be so, and I believe that our business community at large is very much aware that we need to step up our performances in Asia if we don’t want to fall behind. Hence we need the ongoing support from federal and state governments.
The White Paper is more of a reminder than a wakeup call to what we already know in respect to dealing with China and its neighbours.
What is more interesting is how the White Paper is justifiably critical of the lack of Asian languages taught in our schools and the enormous need for foreign language teachers, in particular Chinese.
A great deal is highlighting this weakness by not offering Asian languages from the early learning years.
I fully concur with this need within our education system. Just as English is now becoming a mandatory second language in Chinese junior schools, why not Chinese in Australia, if we believe that we ought to be part of Asia?
The Asian Century has already arrived in Australia, and we are now playing a game of catch up to be a part of it. Enhancing Australians’ ability to speak one or more Asian languages is key to communicating with our neighbours and to understanding the cultures they bring with them.
The challenge for Australia is also accepting the increasing numbers of Asian companies in business here, who themselves will be learning to find the right balances for doing business in Australia.
Melbourne and Australia can be proud for being a great example in multicultural existence. But our Anglo-Saxon and European heritage will certainly be challenged by the arrival of this Asian Century.
May the Year of the Snake bring our Australian-Chinese business community here and abroad, prosperity and happiness.
Publisher, Australia China Connections ■