Essay Questions: Australian-Asian Relationships

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Geographically, Australia lies close to Asia but it is a separate continent. It borders on the Indian subcontinent in the west, Pacific Ocean in the east, and China in the north. The boundary between Australia and Southeast Asia lies in the island of Papua New Guinea and the northern Australian coastline. It means that the country’s geographical position is closer to Asia than European countries. As such, it is possible to regard Australia located in far Southeast Asia. However, because the country is a continent on its own, referring to it as part of Asia is incorrect (Taylor 2008). The Australian government cooperates more with Canada, India, and America than with most Asian countries. Comparing cultures, the one of Australian natives closely matches that of smaller islands of Southeast Asia and Pacific Rim, but not mainstream Asia. Irrespective of culture and language, the Australian economic relationships are inclined to the British (Taylor 2008). Before the 1970s, Australia treated Asian countries with suspicion and mistrust, deliberately ignoring association with Asia and opting for ties with European and American countries. These relationships had lasted for a long period, even after the 1970s. Despite economic success from the 1970s onwards, Australia had engaged in the cold war with Asian countries until 1989. All this time, it remained independent of Asia relations and inclined to Europeans despite being geographically close to Asia. Australia’s relationship with Asia has been shaky affording the former an opportunity to further its security interests in the region. Thus, because of its isolation from neighboring blocks, Australia had to engage in painstaking diplomatic efforts to join the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1994 (Griffiths & Wesley 2010).

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Australia as Separate Part from Asia

British Australians held a belief that their natural resources would attract expansionist Asian people. In addition, there was a fear that because of a large population, Asia would offset its excesses in Australia (Taylor 2008). To shield itself from this threat, the latter introduced a policy regulating immigration from Asian countries and promoting the one from Europe. The immigration policy was enacted in the 1970s, but later abolished in 1979 (Taylor 2008). Even after its abolishment, the immigration minister of the then government softened the policy allowing Asian immigrants to live in Australia temporarily for educational purposes.

Regardless of the majority of aboriginals coming from Asia, transformed Australia distanced itself from Asia and intensified its relations with the British. It is evidenced by various strategic decisions together with European governments as opposed to Asian ones. For instance, today, the structure of the Australian government imitates that of the British one (Taylor 2008). The lack of common heritage and history proves a barrier to close cultural relations between Asia and Australia and increasingly contributes to the argument that the second one will never be part of the first.

Given geographical nearness and cultural differences, Australia’s relationship with Asia has been uneasy as evidenced by a difficulty in initiating trade between the two continents. It largely stems from the Asian perception of Australia as a country that has denied Asia an opportunity to expand. However, sour relationships dramatically lessened in the 1970s with Australia seeking to increase trade in Asian markets (Griffiths & Wesley 2010). It happened after European countries had placed new restrictions and higher taxes on importing goods to European markets. It urged Australia to find trade areas elsewhere. Fortunately, Pacific markets were beginning to open up in the early 1970s. At this period, Japan overtook Britain as the main export market for Australia. By 1972, the latter had exported 25 percent of its total products to Japan, while Britain had imported 11.8 percent of Australian produce. By the end of the Vietnam War, Australia had established wider export markets in Southeast Asia. In addition, after the abandonment of the ‘White Australia’ Policy in 1979 relations between Australia and Southeast Asia improved. It meant that Asian countries could pursue improved diplomatic relations (Pietsch & Aaron 2009). In the 1980s, Australia resettled refugees from the Vietnamese War, enhancing relations with Asian governments. By 1990, successive governments of Australia had developed closer political, economic, and cultural ties with Asian countries. Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating laid the groundwork for closer ties with Asian governments by funding the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Group, which comprised Australia and Asian countries. The original intent of the initiative was to foster Australia’s security in alignment with Asia (Pietsch & Aaron 2009). However, such cooperation was based on specific interests in Japan, China, and Indonesia, prompting strategic alliances with these three countries. For instance, in 1990, Australia established the National Asian Languages Study in Australian Schools (NALSAS) program to provide Australians with a robust understanding of Asia (Pietsch & Aaron 2009). At the same time, the country accepted a large number of immigrants from Asia. This diplomatic strategy gradually shifted a demographic landscape in Australia. By 1996, immigrants coming from Asia had exceeded one million with the largest numbers from Vietnam, China, and Macao. A public opinion poll carried out by McAllister & Ravenhill (1998) showed that there was some resistance among Australian nationalities to the idea of closer relations with Asia. Before the opinion poll, in 1996, Pauline Hanson (1996) from the One Nation political party called for the review of the immigration policy and the abolishment of multiculturalism in Australia. Hanson (1996) cited a threat of being swamped by Asians as the main concern for a stable and homogeneous nation. A number of public opinion leaders and academics supported the view that multiculturalism in Australia costed it its core identity (McAllister & Ravenhill 1998).

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Hostility towards Australia is even in Asia. The former Ambassador to Indonesia, Rawdon Dalrymple, expressed his disgust at Australia observing that an average Australian was less Asian than anyone in the world was. Further, the public opinion poll established that people declined the ideology of Australia being part of Asia (McAllister & Ravenhill. 1998). Asian leaders also felt that Australia was incompetent and could not become an integral part of Asia mainly because of its longstanding relationship with Britain as well as close ties with the American military. Dr. Mahathir, the former Malaysian Prime Minister, categorically described Australia as taking advantage of growth in East Asia calling for the country to desist from being part of any future East Asia Economic Caucus grouping (Pietsch & Aaron 2009). In 1996, the Asian region excluded the country from joining the Asian-Europe summit meeting. Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) members also excluded Australia (Pietsch & Aaron 2009). The non-acceptance of the latter in the regional grouping is clear evidence that Asia does not what Australia to join the Asian region partly because Australian human rights and democracy are closely aligned with those of the United States.

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In 1999, the Australian government attempted to integrate into Asia fully. However, the 1999 crisis in East Timor made it impossible eliciting earlier fears of an Asian threat towards Australia (Cotton 2004). The country prepared an intervention force in East Timor that had generated resentment in Indonesia, posing a major challenge for future cooperation. In 2001, following the terrorist attacks in New York, Australia supported a pre-emptive strike in Iraq as well as the American missile defense system, which further distanced the country from the Asian region. Australia’s alignment with Americans was generally reflected in a change in domestic policies, which were gradually shifting from Asian to Western. Australia’s educational curriculum changed to reflect western values. In addition, the government abandoned the NALSAS program in 2002 (Pietsch & Aaron 2009). Terrorist attacks in Bali occurred in 2002, further worsening the relationship between Australia and Middle East countries, especially Iran, Iraq, and Korea. Australia reviewed its relations with Asia and withdrew its economic support in the region.

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Over the years, Australia has been perceived as a white society, clinging to Europe and being at odds with the region where it is located. Because of this perception, it becomes increasingly difficult for Australians to belong to Asia or become part of it, whereas its cultural orientation matches that of whites. The past sour relations initiated by earlier governments and strategies used to relate with Asian governments illustrate Australia as unique and separate from Asia. Secondly, the Asian economic crisis was celebrated by Australia, giving it an opportunity to generously help Asia. It helped lift Australia’s prestige in the region. However, because of previous positioning and strategies by the Australian government, any move that the government makes is considered suspicious confirming the longstanding image of Australia as a western out-port.

The period between 1995 and 1999 confirmed why Australia would never be part of Asia. The then coalition government instituted the Asian policy declaring a decline in interests in the Asian region (Griffiths & Wesley 2010). The policy sought to stop Australia from intervening in disputes emerging from Asia that failed to affect its interests in the region. It meant that the Australian government would only aid Asian countries. This move would create hostility towards Australians terming them opportunistic. In addition, the government of the day promoted a liberal democratic culture that was derived largely from Europe (Taylor 2008).

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Despite being located in Asia (bordering on Asian countries), Australia has continually disassociated itself from Asians opting to develop relations with Europeans and westerners. Australia with original dwellers that had migrated from Asia, would later transform after colonization to assimilate to ways of Europeans, especially the British who were the main colonizers in the country. Because the country was governed directly by the queen of England, dealings of Australia were controlled by Great Britain. As a result, the country was governed by ideologies of the whites. Furthermore, the government went ahead to impose policies that would bar Asian countries from interacting economically and culturally with the Australians. The massive deportation of Asians and the immigration of Europeans to Australia characterized the separation of the latter from Asia. Because of the tainted relationship between Australia and Asia over the years, suspicion and enmity between the countries has continued to grow. Perhaps this explains why even today, it is increasingly problematic for Australia to establish diplomatic relations with Asians. The history of Australia has created a perception that it is a white man’s country. Firstly, the government created many of its institutions using an example of the British, and the constitution borrows aspects of the white culture. In addition, after mass immigration, the population in Australia reflected the majority of whites. Thus, most people lead white man’s lifestyle. Australia belongs to the commonwealth and has most of its ties with Europe and America. The association with Europeans is greater than that with Asians. Moreover, ideologies shared by Australians closely relate to those of whites. Its relationships with Europeans and west countries make it an entity separate from Asia.