Australia's Asian focus

Updated: 2012-10-29 07:25

(China Daily)

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Australia's Asian century white paper, released on Sunday, has sent an unmistakable message to the outside world that it wants to shift away from the "old countries" of Europe toward broader and deeper engagement with its neighbors in Asia, especially China and India.

Given Asia's rising significance in the world's economic and security landscape, it is no surprise that the biggest country in the Southern Hemisphere seeks to benefit more from Asia's economic and social progress. In fact, Canberra has increasingly sought to identify itself as a member of the Asian club in recent years.

As the white paper highlights the scale and pace of Asia's transformation are unprecedented and the implications are profound, not just for Australia.

Given China's rising role in the region and beyond and its growing economic ties with Australia, it is also not surprising that China features prominently in the white paper, entitled Australia in the Asian Century.

The new document has a more positive tone and reflects a more mature perspective toward China's development and Australia-China relations than the defense white paper released in 2009, which adopted a hostile tone and viewed China's rise as a threat to Australia.

Among the many policy adjustments it has vowed to make to strengthen its "comprehensive, constructive and cooperative relationship" with China, it has even proposed to teach Asian languages, Mandarin included, in Australian schools. This in itself is a commendable step, as it will certainly contribute to greater understanding between Australia and China.

Deeper mutual understanding and greater mutual trust are needed if Australia and China are to advance their relations.

In recent years, many Australians have realized that their country's economy is increasingly dependent on China's demand for Australian goods and the influx of Chinese students and tourists. Nonetheless, suspicion and criticism of China's rise have also emerged in Australian society from time to time, which has prompted irrational reactions to Chinese investments in Australia. Yet, as the white paper admits, China was only Australia's 13th largest investor by the end of 2011.

According to the new document, Australia supports China's participation in the region's strategic, political and economic development. But Canberra needs to do more to translate all the positive signals toward China in its new policy document into action.

(China Daily 10/29/2012 page8)