Asia Society Australia at 25 Years
The world today looks different from 1997 when former Prime Minister John Howard officially announced the establishment of Asia Society’s Australian Centre.
Twenty-five years ago Australia was in the midst of a major economic pivot to Asia, driven by a remarkable complementarity between the Australian economy and the established and emerging economies of our region.
Australia was at the start of building a broad relationship with the People’s Republic of China, and on the verge of a two decade-long China trade, investment, tourism and education boom. Globalisation was accelerating, and Asian migration to Australia was reshaping our cities and community. There was a sense of optimism and opportunity at a spectacular gala dinner that celebrated our beginnings in Australia.
As the Prime Minister put it: It is impossible to imagine a prosperous and successful Australia which is not deeply engaged with Asia.
The arrival in Australia of Asia Society, a global institution with deep U.S. roots attracted criticism that Australia’s Asia engagement policy was written in the United States – criticism that denied Australia its agency and independent voice and neglected a pivotal role of the United States in the region. Criticism that Australia has proved wrong, time and time again.
Fast forward to 2022. Australia is facing a world splitting across strategic, economic and ideological fault lines. At the heart of this division is a contest between China and the United States. Globalisation continues apace, but its gains are questioned by citizens around the world, and its vulnerabilities and excesses are exposed by the COVID pandemic. The global economy – still fragile - is facing another recession. The war is raging in Ukraine, sending shockwaves across the region and challenging the rules-based order. Our relationship with China is at an all-time low.
However, it is not all bad news. Asia remains one of the most dynamic centres of the global economy and is leading a post-pandemic recovery. Our region is still largely peaceful. Australia’s economic, political and societal links with most countries of Asia are strong and growing, and Asia remains central to the realisation of Australia’s potential for our future generations. The United States and Australia are closer than ever, building alliances and networks to maintain peace and stability in Asia. Australia’s voice is heard and respected – from Jakarta to Washington.
Asia Society Australia today is a bigger and more impactful organisation. To respond to the global challenges and to shape our next 25 years, we are pursuing a new strategy – to become Australia’s leading business and policy think tank on Asia. At a time of global upheaval and uncertainty, when both geostrategic and economic forces are pushing Australia closer to Asia, we believe our mission – to prepare Australians for a deeper and sustainable engagement with a more complex Asia – remains highly relevant.
Our ambition is to transform Asia Society Australia into an institution which helps our nation shape its future in a shared region. A region in which Australia is an active fully-fledged member and a responsible regional citizen.
We sincerely thank our community – members, staff, leaders, contributors and friends – for supporting and growing Asia Society Australia. We would not be the thriving organisation we are today without you.
We look forward to writing our next chapter with you.
Chair, Asia Society Australia
CEO, Asia Society Australia