Since the Federal Government’s publication of the Asian Century White Paper last year, Asia’s growth as a major world power and how that will impact Australia has been the subject of much discussion.
The shift in Asia’s dominance has varied consequences for the rest of the world, and those specific to Australia were the topic of conversation at New South Wales Parliament house on Friday, 8th February.
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Hon. Bob Carr; Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema; and United States Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, met with CEO of NSW Left Right Think Tank, Ryan Harvey, to discuss the role of Young Australia in the Asian Century.
Left Right Think Tank’s first foreign affairs discussion explored issues Australia will have to face in the Asian Century, particularly pertaining to Indonesia and the United States. All speakers emphasised the role young Australians will play in the future Asia Pacific region and the strong bond between Australia and Indonesia.
Both Minister Carr and Ambassador Riphat spoke of the “heroic” efforts of Australians in supporting a young Indonesia in its claim for independence in the 1940s, sparking the strong bond between our two countries that continues today. Ambassador Riphat remarked, “Your neighbours are your closest family.”
Whilst the relationship between Indonesian and Australian governments remains strong, Ambassador Riphat echoed the sentiments of the other speakers when he expressed a desire for a deeper relationship between the two nations.
“It is not enough for just the government to be on good terms, the people must be passionate about it too, the youth should be well-equipped to deal with people of other nations,” said Riphat.
The recent push from both sides of Federal government to increase the number of Year 12 students studying a language other than English (LOTE) was deemed to be a significant way to strengthen the bond between Australia and its Asian neighbours.
“It really is in our [Indonesia’s] best interest, because if more Australians speak Indonesian, the more people understand not only the surface of it but also the culture of our regions,” said Ambassador Riphat. “The percentage of Australian youths learning Indonesian has dropped significantly in the last decade … I try to look at this fact from the bright side, maybe Indonesians are getting better at speaking English,”
Both Minister Carr and Ambassador Bleich agreed with the need for Australians to become more Asia-literate, but pointed out that speaking the language is not going to guarantee Australia’s success in the Asian Century.
“Let’s aim to get more Australians speaking Asian languages, but let’s not lay it down as the absolute test of our Asian literacy,” said Minister Carr.
Ambassador Bleich spoke of “phenomenal” technological advancements — such as Google Translate — as being tools to overcome language barriers. Ambassador Bleich said that we don’t need language to interact with foreign nations, but we will need it to develop a deeper cultural understanding.
“I think it’s those rare words in other languages that allows you to think differently and appreciate other cultures in a way you may not be able to, without knowing the language. I think there is a value to encouraging language learning for those reasons. I agree with you [Minister Carr] that our ability to trade, to grow will become easier and easier without learning languages,” said Ambasador Bleich.
All speakers emphasised the continuation of strong partnerships between the United State, Australia and Indonesia.
“The last decade has demonstrated very good relations between Indonesia, Australia and the US. Whilst American is an important neighbour [to Australia] across the other side of the ocean, Indonesia is also an important neighbour only 250km across the sea,” said Ambasador Riphat.
“This [Asia Pacific] is the obvious place for America to invest its resources, it’s the obvious place for everyone to invest their resouces … the only reason we would leave this region is if we have lost our minds,” said Ambassador Bleich.
Minister Carr and Ambassador Bleich stated that the need for Australian interest in South East Asian issues, such as poverty, disease and conflict, was paramount to Australia’s success in the Asian Century.
Ambassador Bleich said: “We are going to focus on these problems to make sure they don’t become problems, but that they become great opportunities. Use our resources to help and minimise challenges to the region. Continue to invest heavily, trade heavily, export heavily and move forward.”
“Right now, the Asia Pacific is one of the most important areas in the world, not only in terms of economic development. To raise the welfare of the people in the region is the most important,” said Ambassador Riphat.
“What we need to work on is areas [such as the regulation of the South China Sea] that lead to conflict or misunderstanding in the future. That’s where you guys [the youth of Australia] come in. It is why people like the foreign minister and I spend time with the Left Right Think Tank, because there is this cliché that the youth are our future. In this region, you are not our future, you are our present,” said Ambassador Bleich.
Bob Carr urged the youth of Australia that “you don’t have to be followers; you can be the creative leaders”, whilst Ambassador Riphat felt the proverb “Provide me with 1000 elders and I can move a mountain, provide me with ten youth and I can rock the world” better explained the potential of Young Australia.
Ambassador Bleich echoed these statements, saying: “Youth is key to a strong and prosperous future in the Asia Pacific.”
Mr Harvey noted that the aim of Left Right Think Tank’s foreign affairs discussions was to encourage a dialogue in young Australians around the Asian Century White Paper, and not dictate how they should react to it.
“I offer many questions and few answers, but I hope to encourage young Australians to think about Asian Century policies and how it will affect them in years to come.”