The advocates of stronger ties with Asia spend a great deal of time with seminars and press statements about the importance of the region to our future. They are correct but they refuse to join the dots and advocate the changes on the really important issues impeding our relations with our region. Some of those impediments are symbolic and some are real. They include:
- How can we expect our region to take us seriously when we have an English Queen as our head of state? Many Asians that I have spoken to are polite but shake their head with bemusement that we have a foreign head of state living in London.
- Many in Asia are sceptical about our dependence on the US and allowing our foreign affairs and defence policies to be determined very largely by our relationship with the US at the expense of relations with regional countries. They have not forgotten John Howard’s reference to Australia as being the US’s ‘deputy sheriff’ in the region. Regional countries do place importance on the continuing role of the US in our region, but not in the slavish way that we do.
- We have a clubbish Anglo-Celtic business sector that espouses better relations with the region but closes its ranks against persons with serious Asian experience or competence in the language.
- The continuous demonization of asylum seekers is a disingenuous re-run of White Australia – appealing to our fear of the foreigner which was the key driver of White Australia in the past. Malaysia is continually bashed by the Greens, the Coalition and NGOs when it offered the prospect of building a regional arrangement for asylum seekers.
- Our media reflects our overwhelming ties to the UK and the US. Just look at the inflated coverage of the Boston bombings compared with the civil war broken out in Iraq with thousands of bombing deaths. By our own involvement in the Iraq war we have contributed to this catastrophe. But three deaths in Boston is much easier and cheaper TV footage.
- We give lip service to the importance of Asian languages, but we are not prepared to fund it.
- Working holiday programs with countries in our region which provide opportunities for young Australians to live and work in the region have been largely stalled for the past twenty years.
So much of the public debate about our relations with the region is froth and bubble. We avoid the hard issues. If we address them we would really show a genuine determination to build our future in our own region.