2018 Asia Wrap

A word from Philipp Ivanov, CEO, Asia Society Australia

2018 program wrap

SYDNEY 20 December 2018

2018 was an eventful year for Australia-Asia engagement and for Asia Society.

Australia has significantly ramped up its engagement with the region by hosting a historic ASEAN-Australia Special Summit - one of the largest gatherings of Asia’s leaders in Australian diplomatic history. The Summit was a culmination of decades of intensive economic, diplomatic and people-to-people engagement between ASEAN and Australia, and occurred at a time of intensifying strategic competition in Asia.

Australia elevated its relationship with India through the new India Economic Strategy which commits to make India our top three export market, third largest destination in Asia for Australian investment, and a key strategic partner by 2035.

Australia and Indonesia have finalised negotiations of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which – once it has passed through the last political hurdles – will eliminate or significantly reduce tariffs for most of Australia's goods exports to Indonesia and improve investment conditions.

Australia and Japan continued getting closer strategically and economically, highlighted by the historic visit by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Darwin, a raft of agreements for strategic and economic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, and the official opening of the INPEX-operated Ichthys LNG facility– one of the world’s largest and most complex energy developments.

After many tumultuous months, Australia’s relationship with China is returning to a new pragmatic normal, with a resumption of high-level contacts and a more measured, interests-driven and mutually respectful rhetoric, buttressed by the necessary review of our policy settings, as China’s own domestic and foreign policies evolve. Despite the setbacks and disagreements, the case for engagement with China remains overwhelmingly strong, but the shape and substance of our engagement will change, as China continues its political consolidation and tightening at home and ambitious strategic and economic diplomacy abroad.

2018 will probably be remembered as a point in history when geopolitical fault lines in Asia (which have been decades in the making) have been laid bare. As China continued its quest for greater regional and global influence and more authoritarian policies at home, the United States announced a wholesale review of its China policy, centred on the comprehensive competition with China across economic, strategic and soft-power domains. Its most marked manifestation to date - the US-China trade war - paused through an awkward and fragile truce negotiated by Presidents Xi and Trump at the G20 Summit in Argentina – is most likely to escalate and have a negative impact on the global economy.

How Australia and our neighbours will navigate a more strategically contested and economically competitive Asia, against the global backdrop of digital disruption and the rapidly growing mobility of people, capital and ideas is fundamental to Australia’s future.

This makes Asia Society’s mission more relevant than ever. Rarely in Australia’s history were the political and economic developments in Asia so directly relevant to our businesses, politics and society at large.

In 2018, Asia Society Australia and the Victorian Government announced a partnership which will create a new Asia Society Australia Centre in Melbourne, and bring our world-class institution and programming to Australia’s global city. Premier Daniel Andrews’ vision of making Melbourne an intellectual capital for engagement with Asia is squarely aligned with ours, and we’re thrilled to be returning and growing in Melbourne.

In 2018 we successfully convened our first executive conference on Asia – Asia Briefing LIVE – addressed - among many others - by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Treasurer Chris Bowen. In addition, we have delivered almost 40 programs to our members and public focussing on business, economic and geopolitical developments in Asia. Asia Society’s Leaders on Asia program presented speeches by Suresh Prabhu, India's Minister for Commerce and Industry; Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd; Singapore's Foreign Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrshinan; and Asia Society Global Co-Chair Ambassador Chan Heng Chee.

Our membership continues to grow. In 2018, we welcomed to our network some of the most Asia-active organisations in Australia - HSBC, the University of Sydney, Moody’s, the University of Queensland, Nikko Asset Management, Blackmores, Sydney Airport, the Australian Meat Industry Council and Wesley College.

We launched our second Disruptive Asia series focussed on ASEAN which presented 20 fresh perspectives on how Australia can grow its relationships with South-East Asia.

Our Asia Briefing newsletter is rapidly becoming the premier source of business and political news, insights and analysis on Australia-Asia engagement, and we’re pleased to see its readership growing daily.

We continued closer engagement with the Government and Opposition on our Asia policy settings, and were pleased to see our ideas and perspectives sought, discussed and accepted by our policymakers in both major parties. We were also pleased to support the Government’s agenda on India, ASEAN and Indonesia.

Our collaboration with the Australian Human Rights Commission on the Leading for Change report highlighted an urgent need to address the lack of cultural diversity within the leadership of our national institutions.

In 2019 we will embark on the next stage of our growth strategy, with the opening of our Melbourne office.

We will double our staff, double our programming and double our impact.

Our programming will focus on Asia’s increasingly volatile geopolitical and geoeconomic competition, and what it means for Australian businesses and policy settings. We will continue to focus on Australia’s key partners in the region – China, Japan, Indonesia, India, ASEAN and the United States.

We will bring the Asia Society Policy Institute and Asia Society Centre for Global Education to Australia.

Our partnership with the National Gallery of Victoria will see us delivering a series of programs on China as a part of the ground-breaking Winter Masterpieces exhibition of China’s Terracotta Warriors and one of the world’s most exciting contemporary artists - Cai Guo-Qiang.

In 2019, our Disruptive Asia project will turn to China, and explore what the new era of Australia’s engagement with China may look like.

None of our achievements and aspirations would have been possible without our members’ support. On behalf of Asia Society’s global family and our Australian team, I wish to thank you for your support, advice and encouragement.


Philipp Ivanov CEO, Asia Society Australia


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