Paul Kelly and Greg Sheridan have diametrically opposed views on the Asian Century white paper (see below). But I’m always skeptical of bold forecasts about the future. Those who promoted the Russian language for the Soviet century have become somewhat disappointed. Then we were told that Japan would be the dominant economic power (the Japanese Miracle) in the golden 60s.
I think it a mug’s game to try to make much out of such projections. Why should we expect China to be the dominant economy for a whole century anyhow – after all its demographics tend to an ageing population? Why not the Asian Millennium or the Asian Decade?
Now the Government proposes to appoint Craig “Twitter” Emerson as Minister for the Asian Century. As if Australia’s engagement with the rest of the world should be so finely planned – I would put more faith in the private sector to invest correctly than a government agency to dictate such policies.
The Asia white paper contains some of the most ambitious benchmarks in Australia’s history but the risk is obvious: that the policy framework will fall short of their delivery.
Julia Gillard has given herself a whole-of-government narrative that unites every aspect of her policies under the theme of “unprecedented opportunity” arising from the coming Asian century.
This white paper is a test for the nation, and a test for Labor.
It is about opportunity and challenge.
The Gillard government white paper on Asia is a fraud. On every level, it is a con job. The government is having a lend of us. Its only admirable quality is its chutzpah.
No Australian government since that of Billy McMahon has done less to increase the level of Asian engagement it inherited when coming to office than the Gillard government.
Some of the white paper is conceptually confused and silly. Is there another nation in the world that so frequently tries to make out lists of the nations most important to it?
This pathetic and obsessive list making is a sign of a deep intellectual insecurity. It’s also a sign of government failure.
But the best analysis of the Asian Century white paper is by Henry Ergas who makes the excellent point that the growth of Asian economies, and the lifting of millions out of poverty is NOT due to central planning and the welfare state. Indeed if we think that Australia’s response to an “Asian Century” is to grow the welfare state and increase the intervention of the State on the private sector, we would be condemning Australia to a Lost Decade / Century. Henry concludes
Yes, Australia can and should thrive in the Asian Century. However, it is not through gimmicks such as “continuous access to Asian language learning” that we will do so. Rather, it is by giving Asia’s experience the respect it deserves. Finally heeding the lessons of Asian education’s hard-won success would be a great place to start.