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Rupert Murdoch on the Role of Australia in Asia

Rupert Murdoch (Photo by World Economic Forum/flickr)

Rupert Murdoch (Photo by World Economic Forum/flickr)

Here, again, Australia must move down two paths. It must first strive to make its own voice heard in China, where it can support the Chinese Government's efforts at economic reform. And it can use its influence in Washington on the side of those who would engage rather than isolate China. Equally important, it can provide a calming influence in Washington, where the heat generated by foreign policy debates often exceeds the light those debates throw on the issues.

For America tends towards bellicosity and an urge for quick fixes in trade matters and in foreign affairs, whereas we natives of Australia are known for our soft-spoken subtlety.

Seriously, because we can have some small influence on the American foreign policy establishment, and because American policy makers know that our interests in this region are broadly consistent with their own, we are in a position to act as a moderating influence on America as it gropes for a coherent policy towards China, India, and indeed, Indonesia.

So, too, with Japan. We are closer to the Japanese geographically and have widespread people to people links with Japan, as well as a big trade relationship and a long standing and intimate political partnership. We therefore can help make the message of economic reform more acceptable in Japan. After all,

  • Australia regularly welcomes a large number of Japanese tourists to its shores;
  • More and more Australians are studying Japanese;
  • Since 1997 Australia and Japan have agreed to annual Prime Ministerial summits.

So Australia can contribute its increasing understanding of Japan - that country's problems and prospects - to the debate over trade policy, both as that debate takes shape between Australia and Japan, and as it will be played out between America and Japan. It is no small thing to be expert in the laws and mores of two of the world's largest economies. And Australia has that advantage.

So Australia can play a role in shaping American attitudes towards Japan, China, Indonesia and the entire region - if its diplomats prove to be as skilled at whispering in the right ears in Washington as their British colleagues have been for many years!

I do not mean to concentrate solely on relations with Japan and China. Australia now sells more of its merchandise to each of China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan than it sells to Great Britain. In short, Australia is thoroughly integrated into the economies of this region.

But this does not mean Australia's future lies exclusively with its regional neighbours. It lies as well with the United States. Australia needs an America that remains constructively engaged - economically, politically and in a security sense - in the Asia-Pacific region. Such an engagement is essential to the prosperity and security of the region.

Similarly, Australia faces no contradiction between its American and Asian commitments. In fact they can reinforce each other. The more Australia conceives of itself as a nation of the New World, open to new ideas and new people, the more it will engage ever more deeply with Asia.

Fortunately, it is also in America's interest for it to remain engaged in the region. The recent financial difficulties of several of the area's economies could not be ignored by an America eager to keep its own economy growing. So its Federal Reserve Board cut interest rates three times - not because the American economy required those reductions, but because Asia's economies needed a stimulus. The difficulties in this region dictated American interest rate policy. And now, when the Fed felt that it must raise interest rates to cool the economy a bit, it was in a position to do so only because economic recovery is taking hold in Korea, Japan, and elsewhere in Asia.

So, engaged in the region America must remain - in its own interests. This means not only helping Japan and other countries to develop solutions to their economic problems, but continuing cooperation with Australia in fields such as intelligence, logistics and technology.

America, of course, is not alone in wondering whether the end of the Cold War calls for a loosening of Australian-American ties. Australia, too, is in the process of a re-think.