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The National Forum: Mapping Our Future in the Asian Century

The Honorable Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister of Australia, delivers the Forum keynote speech in Canberra on May 25, 2010.

The Honorable Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister of Australia, delivers the Forum keynote speech in Canberra on May 25, 2010.

CANBERRA, May 25, 2010 - The Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd, and Opposition Leader, the Hon Tony Abbott, delivered major speeches, and the High Commissioner for India and the Ambassadors for China, Indonesia, Japan and the Republic of Korea participated in a panel discussion with Professor Tony Milner at the Asialink Asia Society National Forum at Canberra's Parliament House.

Entitled Mapping Our Future in the Asian Century, the Forum was unusual in covering so many aspects of Australia-Asia relations. It brought together 130 specialists and stakeholders from business, the arts, government, academia, public health, and development. This created an opportunity for cross-referencing between sectors, and building relationships that may be vital in furthering Australia’s effective engagement with the Asian region.

Forum discussion focused both on what the "Asian century" means in geo-strategic, economic, and cultural terms, and what it means for Australia in particular.

Participants started a stock-take, or health check, on how the country is progressing with regard to Asia engagement.

The annual PricewaterhouseCoopers Melbourne Institute Asialink Index, which covers progress in Australia's Asian engagement in the areas of trade, investment, education, tourism, migration, research and business development, and humanitarian assistance shows that engagement is four times what it was 20 years ago.

But the Forum raised some concerns, including:

  • by international standards, Australia performs poorly in the way it projects itself in the region (soft power)
  • very few Australians study in Asia
  • investment, unlike trade, is an underdeveloped area of Australian economic engagement
  • Australia’s involvement in the arts of the region is "sporadic and scattergun," which leaves the country largely excluded from the extraordinary cultural dynamism of contemporary Asia
  • the study of Asian languages and Asian countries is faring very badly in Australia (even compared to a generation ago), despite government stress on the need for "Asia literacy"
  • there is still a lack of broad Asia skills in Australian businesses, from boardroom to staff
One positive trend cited in the discussion was the suggestion of a paradigm shift, at least at the leadership level represented at the Forum. In thinking about how Australia might achieve a more effective engagement, in reflecting on what it really means to become a player in the regional community, Forum participants stressed the need for much more collaborative work, more partnerships.