Delivery crucial in Australian pivot to Asia
Australia’s pivot to Asia cannot just take place in offices in Canberra and Corporate Board rooms in Sydney and Melbourne. To realise Australia’s goals a much wider group of Australian businesses and communities must build strong mutually beneficial connections with counterparts in Asia. The Asian Century White Paper recognises this fact but does not demonstrate how policy might drive this level of change. A next step on this issue is now urgent.
Australia is developing a strong strategic narrative and accompanying set of national policies designed for the Asian Century. As Irvin Studin identified in his blog, Global Brief, Australia shows the West how to pivot to Asia, Australia has grasped that engagement with Asia must be deep, and cultural as well as economic.
However, if Australia’s vision for the Asian Century is to be realised we need to drive change and connections more broadly in our economy and society. This is much more than language classes for our kids – as important as they are.
At a city or business level we must recognise that ‘connecting to Asia’ is a not what it means in Canberra. People connect with people, businesses connect with businesses, leaders connect with leaders and so on. This is where the rubber truly hits the road in the pivot to Asia and where the ties that will bind us grow or wither.
Current analysis and policy approaches in the White Paper recognise this issue and its importance, but provide little genuine insight into how this can be achieved (or is already being achieved) in different parts of Australia. This gap must be filled for the vision of the White Paper to be more than just words on a page.
Luckily, there are many tangible examples that can help us understand how to build this knowledge and develop genuine policy options to support the pivot. Many regional Australian cities, businesses and individuals are already deeply connected to Asia in quite specific ways.
One example in regional Australia is Griffith in western NSW which has cultivated a mutually beneficial relationship with Harbin in China over many years. Relationships of genuine value have been built between the cities, local business and citizens as a result of this connection.
Real practical benefits of this relationship include local farmers in Griffith now exporting soybeans to China and a local metal fabrication business sourcing a specialist type of steel at a much lower price than was possible through its existing networks. Students from each city also undertake cultural exchange programs to build mutual understanding and interest.
These examples on their own aren’t earth shattering, but in aggregate they are a clear demonstration of how the pivot needs to be realised in practice.
Connecting with Asia beyond the confines of diplomatic and corporate environments is what will transition the pivot from a ‘vaulting ambition’ to inevitability. Perhaps policy makers in Australia and also in Asia know this – but probably only at the anecdotal level. This is obviously insufficient for the development of policy of real depth and influence, a fact reflected in the parts of the White Paper that address this issue.
So how do we meet this challenge?
Most importantly, we must engage Asia in the process at all levels – national diplomacy, corporate relationships, cities, business and personal connections are all relevant.
A next step would be to recognise and value the connections we already have – the baseline is probably better than we think. We also need to assess which new connections make sense by identifying areas of mutual interest that exist between different parts of Australia and possible partners in Asian economies.
Only with this knowledge can we identify to what extent a national policy can catalyse this process and if current policy settings are right for the task.
Through this process we can also assess the extent to which Asia wants to engage with us, and, critically, whether the opportunities we can see from the Australian perspective are viewed the same way in Asia.