Australia’s government has unveiled a new white paper that outlines Australia’s changing foreign policy plans which seek to develop relations with its Asian neighbours, such as China and Indonesia, and moving away from a reliance on the ‘old countries’ of Europe that have traditionally been the cornerstone of Australian foreign relations.
As a member of the Commonwealth, Australia still retains strong links with the United Kingdom. These links are political, economic and cultural. Politically the two are intrinsically linked through the English monarch being the Head of State in Australia although the Queen exercises very little actual power in the nation. Cultural the two nations are closely linked with sport, music and cinema all being shared across the world. however economically the links between the two have declined as the UK has become more closely connected to Europe through the EEC (European Economic Community) and the EU.
These declining economic links are a clear indication of the reasons for the changing foreign policy. Despite the demographic and strong cultural links, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has made a clear statement that both economically and in terms of strategic geopolitics, Australia’s focus must be on Asia rather than Europe.
In her speech Gillard stated that the world had seen a dramatic shift in the global economy with the balance of power shifting eastwards. She argued that this century was see “Asia’s return to global leadership”, a phenomenon that was “not only unstoppable but gathering pace”.
For Gillard a focus on Asia is not a personal governmental desire to disassociate with Europe and the West, bu rather as a tool to progress Australian society in many different sectors, including tourism, financial service, transport & logistics and manufacturing, so that it is prepared to take advantage of the shifting economic trends and develop Australia’s economic prosperity by building opportunities in Asia economies.
Specific aims for Australia includes boosting Australia’s average national income and improving the nation’s education system. To achieve these aims the government has outlined several key proposals:
- Asian studies to become a core part of the school curriculum.
- Give students an opportunity to learn an Asian language, such as Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian or Japanese.
- Develop ‘Asian-literacy’ within business leaders.
These proposals build on an already well developed policy of foreign relations with Asian nations. Indonesia, as one of Australia’s closest geographical neighbours, have always maintained close relations with strong economic ties, focusing on the resources, such as fossil fuels and fisheries, that the two share, and social ties, that centre around the issue of migration into Australia.
Japan and Australia have always had close economic and political ties due to the position of both nations as middle-ranking economic powers with routes to furthering political power in the West. Japan was also once Australia’s largest trading partner only being replace in recent times by China.
China, as one of the world’s most powerful economies and Australia’s most important trading partner, it is understandable that the focus of the new white paper is on China. In addition to the stronger economic ties that Prime Minister Gillard promotes, she also recognises the important role and ever growing Chinese military will play in world politics. Instead of trying to contain China’s developing military, Australia should instead balance its defence ties with the US, which Gillard still emphasised as a key part of Australian society, with increasing links to China’s military strength.
For critics of Gillard this move towards Asia is simply a furthering of her own personal views of the region. It has been widely reported that Julia Gillard is a Republican, who is seeking to cut the fundamental political ties between Australia and the UK, by removing the English monarch as the Head of State in Australia. These new foreign policies may be seen by some a a way to further severe Australia’s historic ties to Europe.
However, with the EU undergoing financial and political crises and the rise of Asia growing rapidly, these new foreign policies can be seen as the most sensible route for Australia to follow. It does not mean that the relations with European nations are going to simply disintegrate overnight, but rather that Australia can no longer simply rely on Europe as its premier political and economic partner. For real economic prosperity Australia must focus on becoming a bigger partner in the growing power of Asia economies.