In 2015 we launched our new event series 'Disruptive Asia' to discuss innovation in Asia and its impact on Australia and the world. We didn't anticipate that the term 'disruption' would be so readily embraced by our Asia-watching community to describe Australia's broader economic, social and policy transformations and challenges amidst the rising strategic and economic significance of Asia.
From the first steps towards greater political and economic relations with Asia in the 1950s to Ross Garnaut’s seminal report “Australia and the northeast Asian ascendancy” in 1989 and Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s comprehensive “Australia in the Asian Century White Paper” in 2013, Australia’s engagement with the region has been framed as the one between a distinct outsider and a culturally and politically different region. Australia saw its quest towards closer ties with Asia as a conscious choice, albeit strongly influenced by the changing economic realities. It is most evident in our economic relations with Asia, in which commodity trade dominates (interestingly not requiring intensive people-to-people contact between the trading parties), Asian business activity in Australia on the rise, while the Australian investment, services and physical presence in Asia continuing to be almost negligible.
In 2017 - it seems – the choice has been made, and Australia is becoming an integral part of the changing Asia, albeit a distinct one at that. It is unlikely that other regions will replace Asia as our key trading partners and investment sources in the foreseeable future. It is also difficult to imagine that China’s influence in our region (and therefore on own strategic and political outlook) will diminish. Our migration and demographic patterns point to a different cultural make-up of our society in the near future, although it is not yet reflected in the leadership of our political, education and business institutions. While we are still debating our place in the region and how best to connect with it, our neighbours have recognised the value and potential of our market, the uniqueness of our natural environment, and the power of our democratic and open society.
In 2017, through the shifting strategic and economic weight, immigration, cultural confluence, transport and people-to-people connectivity and the natural advantages of proximity and lifestyle, Asia has arrived to Australia. And we will probably find that it is a disruptive force, in both negative and positive connotations of this term.
To dig a little deeper into what it means for Australia, we asked 20 (just because we turn 20 this year) experts, observers and practitioners of Australia-Asia affairs to share their views on Australia's relations with the region.
The result is ‘Disruptive Asia’ - a collection of essays from Australian and global Asia watchers and practitioners on how Asia’s rise is fundamentally altering Australia’s foreign policy, economy and society and how Australia should respond and adapt to the rise of Asia.
The publication - to be launched in 2017 and edited by the award-winning journalist and author Greg Earl - will present new ideas and solutions to broaden and deepen Australia’s connectivity with the Indo-Pacific region in the environment of changing world order and power relations, slow economic growth and rapidly growing mobility of people, technologies and capital.
The publication will present both established and new voices and ideas for Australia’s engagement with the region. It will coincide with the Asia Society Australia’s 20th anniversary in 2017 and the development of the Foreign Policy White Paper, commissioned by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
We hope that “Disruptive Asia” will be a live, on-going conversation about Australia’s future in the region.
CEO, Asia Society Australia