Location, location, location

I WAS MORE tired than I'd ever been when the fleet of black Volkswagens arrived. We watched them pull into the hotel forecourt from our table in the lobby cafe. All the other tables were empty and set for the morning; even in Beijing the hours after midnight tend to be quieter. We were distributed in pairs among the Volkswagens, and the convoy purred out onto Chang An Avenue, past Tiananmen Square, towards one of the suburbs close to Zhongnanhai, the secluded enclave from which China is ruled.

I was surprised at the size of the apartment we were taken to, even though I knew our host was a 'princeling', the son of a very senior cadre, and held a senior post in one of China's ministries. Several of the apartment's rooms and corridors were lined, floor-to-ceiling, with wooden shelving carved in the Ming style. On the shelves were scores of antiques: jade carvings, intricate silverware, pottery, rich lacquerware. Our host was in an expansive mood, clearly delighted at this visit by Australia's first ambassador to China. He talked enthusiastically about 'his' antiques collection, passing around this and that ancient jade or bone carving, before tossing each back into its display box. After a couple of hours our host's wife, a princeling in her own right, arrived home. Clearly tipsy, she was eager to show us her prized possessions, which included a framed photograph of her shaking hands with a grinning Bill Clinton.

We left as dawn began to lighten the dirty skies. I knew that, like each day of the previous week, what I'd just seen and heard would destroy any chances of sleep. Most of our previous week in China had been spent in discussions with Chinese counterparts at the Huairou leadership retreat, across a toxic lake from the conference centre where the year before China had hosted the 1995 World Women's Conference. There was much to discuss. The Howard government had not had a happy first six months managing Australia's foreign policy, and China had been a major cause of the heartburn. In March 1996, the month the Coalition took office, China began launching missiles and staging aggressive naval exercises in the waters around Taiwan, with the intention of intimidating Taiwanese from voting for Lee Teng-hui, an advocate of an independent Taiwan, in that country's first presidential elections. When the Clinton administration despatched two aircraft carrier battlegroups to the Taiwan Straits, the Howard government, which had pledged to 'reinvigorate' the alliance with Washington, issued a supportive statement.

Beijing was furious, and went out of its way to let the new government know. It almost cost the new Foreign Minister Alexander Downer his job. One of the first decisions of the Howard government had been to cancel a tied-aid scheme, the Development Import Finance Facility, which had long been criticised as a taxpayer-funded subsidy to Australian companies operating in the region. Under Opposition questioning, Alexander Downer told Parliament on June 18: 'As I have travelled around South-East Asia and North-East Asia and met foreign ministers and other ministers from those countries there and here, not one minister – be he a foreign minister or an economic development minister – has expressed any concern to me about the abolition of the DIFF program. Not one!'[i]

Beijing's official response, 'The Chinese government has, both prior to and after the decision of the Australian government, expressed many times and through various channels its grave concern over the termination of DIFF,'[ii] was leapt on by the media and the Opposition, which called for Downer to be sacked for having misled Parliament.

When in August 1996 Australia and the United States issued the 'Sydney Statement' announcing closer military ties, the People's Daily called Australia and Japan 'the claws of a crab' used by the United States to try to contain China.[iii] Beijing's mood darkened further after Defence Minister Ian McLachlan stated that China was a strategic concern in the region, and after Canberra condemned a Chinese nuclear test. Beijing lodged an official protest at the visit of Primary Industries Minister John Anderson to Taiwan in September 1996, choosing not to honour the unspoken protocol of turning a blind eye to such visits if they were characterised as 'unofficial'.[iv] The Chinese government also chose not to be understanding about the Dalai Lama's visit to Australia, and Howard's decision to meet with him; in the face of vociferous denunciations in the Chinese state media, the Prime Minister asserted that he would not 'bow to Chinese threats'.[v] Another official Chinese periodical wrote that Australia was 'confused' about whether it wanted to be close to Asia or the United States.[vi] The Guangming Daily carried an editorial arguing that Australia's embarrassing defeat in its bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nation's Security Council was because the Howard government had 'altered the direction of [Australia's] foreign policy' away from Asia towards the United States and Europe.[vii]

Such jibes meant we were unsurprised at the talks at Huairou when the Chinese raised Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of Civilisations' argument. In the Summer 1993 issue of the New York-based journal Foreign Affairs, Huntington had argued that ideology would no longer sketch the lines of amity and enmity among nations; the next century would be driven by confrontations among several of the 'civilisations' into which humankind is divided. He observed that so many of the conflicts of the early 1990s – in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Kashmir, and the Levant – traced along what he called 'Islam's bloody frontiers', where the Muslim world abutted the non-Muslim world. 'The Clash of Civilisations' made that issue of Foreign Affairs the highest-selling issue since the journal was founded in 1923.

Huntington's call was for greater solidarity within the 'civilisation' of the West as it came under challenge from others; his was a vehement rejection of the views of those who argued that the end of the Cold War would usher in a period of globalisation-led universal conversion to democracy, capitalism, human rights, rule of law and toleration. He argued that globalisation's uncertainties would drive a rise in nativism – a greater identification with tribal, ethnic or religious identities. This would place particular pressure on what he called 'torn countries', which had 'a single predominant culture which places it in one civilisation but its leaders want to shift it to another civilisation ... the people of torn countries agree on who they are but disagree on which civilisation is properly their civilisation'.[viii] Huntington listed Australia alongside Russia, Turkey and Mexico as a torn country: 'In the early 1990s ... Australia's political leaders decided, in effect, that Australia should defect from the West, redefine itself as an Asian society, and cultivate close ties with its geographical neighbours.'[ix]


IN HIS BOOK, Engagement Australia Faces the Asia Pacific (Pan, 2000) former prime minister Paul Keating dismissed Huntington's characterisation of his foreign policy: 'The last claim is right; the first two are rubbish.'[x] But Huntington had picked up on a broadly held, if inaccurate, perception of Keating's intentions within the Australian community. In his off-the-record 'Placido Domingo' speech to the National Press Club on December 7, 1990, which marked the beginning of his rise to topple Bob Hawke for the prime ministership, Keating argued that politicians can change the world, but Australia had never had a transformative leader such as Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. 'Leadership is not about being popular. It's about being right and about being strong.' In that speech, Keating gave the first broad hints that his would be a visionary, transformative premiership, that he intended Australia would be a very different country when he left office.

When Keating took up residence at The Lodge, Australia had seen a decade-long renaissance of nationalism and self-belief. Australian movies, literature and music in the 1980s had repopularised the national myths – Gallipoli, The Man From Snowy River, Bradman, Phar Lap, Ned Kelly – and Australia's stories had been enjoyed overseas. A powerful theme was that from battle field to sports field, grit and determination were at the core of the national character. Keating's transformational message drew on this new nationalism to reject the old anglophile conventionality that he attributed to conservative rule in Australia.

Keating defined his approach with big themes – multiculturalism, reconciliation, the republic, Asian engagement – which he presented as intimately interlinked. His message was that, to really move forward, Australia needed to transform itself from within, sloughing off its old conservative habits of mind to reinvent itself. It was a period of highly charged identity questioning.

For Keating, multiculturalism, the republic and Asian engagement were deeply related: 'Australian cannot represent itself to the world as a multicultural society, engage in Asia, make the link and make it persuasively while in some way, at least in constitutional terms, remaining a derivative society.' The internal transformation had to proceed hand-in-hand with the external engagement. Taking heed of the 1989 Garnaut Report which argued that, in order to take the greatest advantage of economic engagement with Asia, Australia must become more Asia-literate, the Keating government launched a program funding Asian language education in Australian secondary schools. Culture and language were barriers that needed to be overcome. Foreign Minister Gareth Evans argued that globalisation would bring not a clash of civilisations but a 'cultural convergence' around commonalities – the growing use of the English language in Asia, shared experiences of multiculturalism, market systems and liberal democracy – that sounded like Asian countries were doing much of the converging, not Australia.[xi] While Australian school kids were becoming more Asia-literate, it seemed Asian countries were becoming more Australia-literate.

By the early 1990s Australian popular culture began to register a broad, visceral discomfort with the Keating agenda. Movies that gave national myths, symbols and lifestyles an irreverent twist began to emerge; a national mood of self-deprecation seemed to greet Keating's transformational intent. Something in the Prime Minister's soaring rhetoric jangled against deep-seated cynicism about transformative visions and ostentatious display, self-deprecation became evidence of genuineness, pragmatism and philistinism acquired new cache. Perhaps the most emphatic statement of this reaction came with the 1994 release of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, in which three identity-bending transvestites travel to the heart of Australia. One Asian appears in the film: a garish, irrepressible Thai bar girl who shoots ping-pong balls from her vagina and has duped a genuine Aussie bloke into a bizarre, mutually-contemptuous marriage.

She is a character well-drawn to resonate in the Australian imagination. Whether or not they have been to Patpong Road, Australians have encountered the 'me love you long time' Asian bar girl in countless songs, movies and television series. They are a recurring image of the seductive, dangerous exoticism of Asia for Australians. Cold Chisel's paean to Australia's post-Vietnam War rootlessness, 'Khe Sanh', nicely captures this ambivalent attraction:

And I've travelled round the world from year to year
And each one found me aimless, one more year the more for wear
And I've been back to South East Asia
But the answer sure ain't there
But I'm drifting north, to check things out again You know the last plane out of Sydney's almost gone
Only seven flying hours, and I'll be landing in Hong Kong
There ain't nothing like the kisses
From a jaded Chinese princess
I'm gonna hit some Hong Kong mattress all night long.

Of course Australians' attitudes towards Asia have always been heavily shaped by the ebbs and flows of Western pop culture, from Madama Butterfly to Madonna's henna-ed hands. The 1980s saw a focus on Asia as a way of expressing post-punk androgyny in popular culture; for many artists, Asia became the permissive frontier of experimentation and transformation. But even here there was an undercurrent of tentativeness and regret, perhaps best expressed in Iggy Pop's 'China Girl', which David Bowie was to repackage into one of the biggest hits of 1983 in Australia:

My little China Girl
You shouldn't mess with me
I'll ruin everything you are.
I'll give you television
I'll give you eyes of blue

I'll give you men who want to rule the world.


JOHN HOWARD'S LANDSLIDE win in March 1996 was not the overwhelming rejection of Keating's identity agenda, that many have suggested. But at some stage in 1995 there was an almost imperceptible change in the nature of popular reactions to Keating's transformational vision. The confident, quirky self-deprecation began to be replaced by an obstinate complacency, an assertion we're fine the way we are, and to suggest we need to change is to admit that there's something wrong with the way we are. Howard picked up on this in his mall-crawls, during which he regularly fed, and continues to feed his insatiable appetite for communion with ordinary Australians. He vigorously reacted against the Keating agenda, saying in the run up to the 1996 election, 'Much of [Keating's] rhetoric about building a so-called new Australia is built on a denigration of our past and its achievements. We are constantly told that Australia's history is a litany of intolerance, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.'[xii] Pauline Hanson's popularity simply reinforced for Howard how much messages of belligerent complacency and assertive alienation were resonating in post-Keating Australia.

Howard built the second-longest prime ministership in Australian history around stoking and shaping this national mood. He serially dealt with each of Keating's big identity issues by bringing them to a head, shaping the debate in such a way as to drive them in unresolvable directions, and then burying them, undecided, in the inevitable flows of news and elections. No solution was arrived at for any of the identity issues that Keating had raised: there was no sense of closure, nor any policy framework that promised to resolve or reconcile these issues in the future. As time passed they became too hard and therefore seen as better avoided.

Hanson provided the ideal foil for Howard to advance his long-held convictions in relation to multiculturalism and reconciliation. While Hanson railed at multiculturalism as an elite-driven Asianisation agenda, Howard advanced steadily towards a nativist reinterpretation: 'If multiculturalism means that we are Australian before anything else, then I'm all for it ... But if multiculturalism is some kind of apology for being Australian and some kind of federation of culture instead of authentic Australian culture then I'm all against it.' In the course of a decade, Howard slowly expunged the word multiculturalism from the federal government lexicon, until in January 2007 the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs became the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Post-millennium anxieties about transnational threats allowed greater emphasis on assimilationist mechanisms such as citizenship tests and the threat of deportation for those not ascribing to 'the Australian way of life'. And the Hanson-charged environment allowed Howard to react to the High Court's Wik decision in a very different way to Keating's response to Mabo. Howard's reconciliation would be 'practical', without any need for Keating's collective acts of empathy, atonement and re-imagining.

The consistent formula applied by Howard in confronting multiculturalism, reconciliation, the republic and Asian engagement was that these were issues of method, not identity. They were to be disaggregated and dealt with one by one, pragmatically, unostentatiously. And slowly, slowly, the Howard years saw the deflation of any collective sense of becoming in Australia. Keating's grand, national visions were quietly replaced with a widespread sense of individual betterment. Howard's great aspiration was not to replace the Governor-General with an Australian President, but to see the family Commodore replaced by a four-wheel-drive in large numbers of middle-class driveways.

Australians' horizons contracted, in many senses. Aspirations became stubbornly individual and short-term. Achievement was expressed in the conspicuous enactment of lifestyles of remarkable conventionality. And a slow desiccation of interest occurred about the countries to our north. Measured in terms of Australian students undertaking serious study of Asian languages and cultures, Asia's exoticism and excitement seemed to be infecting fewer Anglo-Celtic Australians by the late 1990s. In previous decades, the region's romance had resulted in a vibrant Asian studies sector in Australian universities. Great scholars such as CP Fitzgerald, AL Basham and Herb Feith revolutionised their respective fields and trained generations of Asianists. Australia came to be seen internationally as the main alternative perspective to the American dominance of Asian studies.

As John Fitzgerald, Robin Jeffery, Kama Maclean and Tessa Morris-Suzuki record in their 2002 report for the Asian Studies Association of Australia, student interest in Asian studies – other than in the study of Chinese – plummeted in the late 1990s and has never recovered. Universities, forced to cater to the trends of interest in the student 'market', began closing down Asian studies courses and then whole areas of specialisation. The bell-weather was the study of Indonesian, arguably Australia's most pressing Asia-skills priority. Prior to the Asian financial crisis and East Timor, student numbers in Indonesian language, politics and society courses were consistently strong. At the University of New South Wales, where I had my first academic job, we had first year Indonesian classes of up to sixty students during the early– to mid-1990s. After the financial crisis and East Timor, the numbers fell – sometimes ten students in first year, more often fewer.

There are various reasons for this withering of interest. A major cause was disappointed expectations. Figures show that student interest in studying individual Asian languages follows expectations of economic opportunity – for example when Japan was booming, so did the study of Japanese, and so on with Korea, Indonesia and now China. This is because Asia's importance has always been sold to Australians with arguments about economic opportunity. Even in the Asian economic miracle of the mid-1990s, students with Asian studies degrees were finding that glamorous and lucrative jobs in Asia were not as numerous as they'd hoped; after Japan's long recession and the Asian financial crisis the disillusion became profound.

Another reason was the growing competitiveness within the education sector, which meant that students from English-speaking backgrounds were reluctant to join Asian language classes in which students from Asian-language backgrounds prevailed. Many Anglo-Celtic Australian kids opted instead to study Spanish or French, languages considered easier, with in-country study locations considered more familiar, less dangerous and certainly not so hot. The Howard Government cancelled the federal program supporting the study of Asian languages in secondary schools, an event that went largely unremarked in the broader national conversation. Despite the pressing need for Asia knowledge in government and business, there was a general complacency that these skills could be met from within Australia's growing population of Asian-Australian professionals.

The decline in curiosity about Asia occurred, paradoxically, at a time of booming Australian tourism to the region, and during a period of heightened national appetite for Asian cuisines, movies, art and popular culture. Australians have continued to holiday and work in Asian countries in large – unprecedented – numbers. An easy familiarity with the region's great cities and tourist resorts is a badge of cosmopolitan achievement in contemporary Australian society. Australians have become more mobile as they have acquired more disposable income and, while Europe and North America attract many for their transformative backpacker experiences, a large proportion go to Asia for short holidays because it's close and cheap. The internet, Lonely Planet guides, and the growth of the tourism industry has progressively reduced the capacity of the experience of Asia to unsettle and seduce. Globalisation means there's less that's exotic in these destinations, and less that is so culturally pristine that it overwhelms the traveller. The major Asian cities now have large enclaves of expatriates, and Australians who live there can limit their engagement with the surrounding society. The holiday or working experience in Asia has become more commonplace, but at the same time more easily quarantined as peripheral to defining life experiences.

The nineties became the decade of America, just as the fifties had been. The rapid spread of a new American technology focused world attention on its cultural forms, communication styles and taste preferences. The great Leviathan sloughed off its post-Vietnam self-doubt to register year-on-year economic growth and prosperity. In the Persian Gulf and the Balkans, America displayed a military might of a different order to that of any other nation. Australians were enthralled, once again showing the national chameleon-like ability to catch the latest wave and make it to the top – this time in the United States.


KEATING AND EVANS struggled with the question of Australia's belonging in the region. Belonging has been a perennial theme in Australian foreign policy. Ever since European settlement, membership of the British Empire had been a source of both comfort and anxiety for Australians. The nation's founding came amidst a European – and particularly a British – colonisation of the world. One of the justifying ideologies underpinning this imperialism was the concept of a hierarchy of races. A society's greater apparent potency in world affairs was taken to indicate a superior position on such a hierarchy, while a self-conception of such superiority justified – and indeed obligated – a society's colonisation of others deemed to be inferior. Such beliefs gained impetus with the publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species, and writers such as the Comte de Gobineau produced systematic theories of racial hierarchy and destiny. The extent and glory of the British Empire demonstrated for many, as Cecil Rhodes that, 'to be born British is to win first prize in the lottery of life'.

But membership in a changing Empire brought anxieties too. Australia's birth as a state came about as an Act of the British Parliament, and there was a remarkable reluctance to assume the prerogatives of sovereignty for almost half a century afterwards. Australia's first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, stated: 'There could be no foreign policy for the Commonwealth [of Australia] ... foreign policy belong[s] to the Empire.'[xiii] The Australian government did not ratify the 1931 Statute of Westminster, which established foreign policy independence for the Dominions, until 1943. Its only permanent overseas representative until the 1930s was posted in London. There was an almost pathological need to refute any suggestion that such moves were attenuating Empire links. As John Curtin, a prime minister primarily remembered for speaking of Australia's 'turn to America' during the depths of the Second World War, put it, 'I do not consider Australia a segment of the British Empire. It is an organic part of the whole structure.' Curtin, like most of his compatriots, saw himself as a representative and custodian of Britishness: 'In the southern hemisphere, seven million Australians carry on a British community as trustees for the British way of life in a part of the world where it is of the utmost significance to the British-speaking race that such a vast continent should have as its population a people and a form of government corresponding in outlook and in purpose to Britain.'[xiv]

Australians' sense of their place in the world was strongly imbued with conceptions of racial hierarchy, and the implementation of the White Australia Policy was intended to preserve the society as racially pure from the burgeoning non-white populations in nearby countries. It was such self-perceptions, and consequent beliefs about the outside world, that led Prime Minister Billy Hughes vociferously to oppose a Japanese proposal to the Versailles Peace Conference that racial equality should be a basic principle of international relations. Australians often reacted with alarm at relaxations of racial hierarchy and barriers in other parts of the British Empire, and began to see themselves as the custodians of an authentic Britishness.[xv] Curtin's successor, Ben Chifley, spoke of the empire as consisting of three tiers of members, as determined by their proportions of pure British stock: 'The reality behind changing forms is the willingness of purely British units like Britain, Australia and New Zealand; units like Canada and South Africa, which have large French or Dutch sections; and units like India, Pakistan and Ceylon, proud of old civilisations pre-dating any British link, to work closely and effectively for common ideals and concrete objectives.'[xvi]

Australians' anxieties were heightened by Britain's eclipse as a great power of the first rank following the world wars, but at the same time soothed by the progressive assumption of Britain's global role by the United States. Curtin's 'turn to America' during the Second World War was a move that Australians had psychologically been prepared for since at least the visit of the Great White Fleet. As an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald put it during that visit in August 1908: 'We welcome the American officers and men as in the main kinsmen, as representatives of a nation whose institutions are identical in spirit and almost identical in form to our own ... if it ever has to come to seeking the protection of another power our people could probably turn instinctively to Uncle Sam.'[xvii]

Britain's eclipse and America's rise were underpinned by the steady undermining of the notions of racial hierarchy that had justified the British Empire and informed Australia's sense of its place in the world. A sense of distinctiveness and belonging began to be expressed not in terms of bloodstock but of institutional legacies; in Menzies' words, 'You and I are Australians. We are also British. We do not and cannot think of the other British nations as foreign people. They are all within the great British tradition – a tradition which has given to the world the spirit and machinery of self-government, free institutions, justice within the law ...'[xviii]

So an Empire nation redefined itself as a Western nation, deeply committed to the common struggle against communist barbarism. Even at the depths of the Cold War, Australia's anxieties about belonging persisted. The formation of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949 as an expression of Western solidarity against Communism led to worries in Canberra about its non-membership. As he negotiated the ANZUS alliance with the United States, Foreign Minister Percy Spender hoped it would provide Australia with an entrée into the great councils of Western powers, particularly NATO.[xix] At the base of such concerns about belonging was a conviction that a country as small and isolated as Australia could not afford to be excluded. In Menzies' memorable formulation: 'Situated as we are in the world, washed on our western and northern shores by potentially hostile seas, and numerically incapable – despite intense defence preparations – of defending ourselves for long against all-out attack by a great power ... if ... a war comes, the business of foreign policy is to see that we enter with great and powerful friends.'[xx]


ANXIETIES ABOUT BELONGING have driven an obsessive clubbishness in Australian foreign policy. Membership and standing in international organisations are major concerns, and a frenetic activism in proposing, shaping and driving forward institutions is one of the distinguishing attributes of Australian diplomacy. Problems or issues in Australia's international relations are often met with institutional solutions. There is also an anxiety to fill institutional 'gaps' where they are seen to exist. In the 1950s, the South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) became an expression of the need for an American-led collective security arrangement in South-East Asia as a counterpart to the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) in West Asia and NATO in Europe. In the 1990s, APEC was driven forward by Keating's concern that there was no mechanism that regularly brought together the leaders of the world's most economically dynamic region.

Its settlement heritage gave Australia the scope to be imaginative. The British Empire had spanned all continents and oceans and included numerous races, religions and languages, but this did not stop Australian leaders asserting its 'organic wholeness' or supporting the inclusion of the British Commonwealth in the United Nations' Charter as a 'regional organisation'. Trade and people flows were important indicators of belonging, and for most of Australia's history Britain supplied the majority of Australia's immigrants, markets and investment. But as the old Imperial Preferences system collapsed in the 1950s, and Britain's attention focussed on Europe, Australian trade began to flow north. By the 1960s, Japan had become Australia's most important trading partner. In 1961, China displaced Britain as the principal market for Australian wheat, and in the ensuing decade bought between 30 and 40 per cent of the annual harvest. In 1967, Australia became the third largest supplier of goods to China, behind Japan and West Germany.

In the early 1950s, Coalition foreign ministers Percy Spender and Richard Casey had believed that Australian foreign policy should work to build a regional association that included Australia, its great power allies and the newly independent non-communist Asian states. But the new states had begun to espouse principles highly critical of the international order and its bipolar competition between the USA and the USSR. Australia voted at the United Nations to condemn China's aggression in the Korean War in February 1951, at once setting it apart from Commonwealth states such as India that were sympathetic to China. Instead the former colonies in Asia and Africa found a new solidarity that gained its ultimate expression at Bandung in 1955. The often self-righteous bombast of statesmen such as Nehru irritated Australian leaders, and because China was one of the leading protagonists in the burgeoning Non-Aligned Movement, Australia declined early invitations to join pan-Asian conferences, gravitating instead towards a rigid, hub-and-spokes security architecture in the Pacific, centred on the United States and firmly committed to containing communism. Cabinet rejected Casey's plan to broaden ANZUS into a regional framework including Asian states and Britain, and Australia's drift away from pan-Asianism continued when Australia's military contributions to containing communism in Malaya were denounced by Indian Foreign Minister Krishna Menon as patronising and neo-colonial.

The tension between the lure of pan-Asianism and Australia's Pacific commitments has nagged at Australian foreign policy for over half a century. By the 1980s, a hybrid formula, 'Asia-Pacific' emerged that allowed Australia to reconcile its bifurcating loyalties. Fortunately, it was backed up by trade: Japanese investment and industry relied on cheap South-East Asian labour and Australian resources to produce consumer items for the voracious American market. This virtuous trading cycle between the countries of Asia's Pacific rim and North America was reinforced by the United States' defence commitments to a string of littoral countries: Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and Australia. Predictably, Australian diplomats worked frenetically to give institutional expression to the new regional formula; the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum came into being to express the trade dimension, and the ASEAN Regional Forum to embody the security aspects.

But the idea of Asianism has always been opposed to non-Asian great powers playing a major role in the region, and was not placated by Canberra's imaginative formulas. Asianism draws variously on post-colonial prickliness and regional success to assert that Asian countries do not need Western models or advice about how to develop or organise their politics or economies. It focuses on the belief that the era of Western ascendancy is coming to an end, that the future belongs to Asia. It organises around convictions that a lack of solidarity among Asian states allows outside powers to dominate the region, that as long as Asian countries' ties to external states are stronger than their ties with each other this will continue, and that only through coming together in genuine solidarity can Asia play a role in global politics commensurate with its size and significance.

These themes resonate powerfully among many in Asian countries, and the incentive to draw on them has been a constant in regional politics. Asian-ism has been a crucial component of the region's longest-enduring institutions: for example, a major motivation for ASEAN was the need to reduce intramural tensions and build regional resilience in order to remove the incentives for external powers to intervene in South-East Asia. Asianism has been absent from the region's failed institutions, such as SEATO and the Asia Pacific Council, both conceived as institutional expressions of America's preeminent regional security role.

So it was inevitable that the end of the Cold War and the revival of regionalism in Europe and North America would call forth Asianist hopes in South-East Asia. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir emerged as the most enthusiastic advocate of Asianist regionalism at the end of the 1980s. As Japanese investment promised to make Malaysia the next Asian economic tiger, Mahathir began enjoining Tokyo to move away from its relationship with Washington and assume a leadership role in Asia. Mahathir and other regional leaders pointedly refused to join Western countries' condemnation of China following the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, instead demonstrating their solidarity with Beijing in carefully chosen ways. In December 1990, Mahathir proposed the formation of an East Asian Economic Group (EAEG), encompassing the ASEAN states and Japan, China and South Korea. Supporters greeted Mahathir's proposal by advocating 'Asia for the Asians'; critics dubbed it 'the caucus without Caucasians'.

Canberra reacted with alarm, all of its belonging viscera bristling. An exclusive Asianist economic bloc could not only raise costly barriers between Australia and its North Asian trading partners, but also between the economies of Pacific Asia and North America, possibly further fracturing the global economy into exclusive economic blocs. The Asianist vision threatened to confirm Australia as a liminal state, belonging nowhere except perhaps alongside the micro-states of the Pacific. Institutional exclusion from the region could also call into question Australia's status as Washington's close ally with access into and expertise on South-East Asia. Australia vigorously opposed Mahathir's plan, loudly spruiking APEC as the more appropriate expression of regionalism, and conspired with Washington to ensure that Japan, a crucial player in the EAEG, responded coolly to the EAEG proposal. It was seen as a singular success of Australian diplomacy that the proposal was watered down into an East Asian Economic Caucus, an informal grouping within the broader APEC forum.

Mahathir was livid. He found the subsuming of his grand vision within the competing APEC forum deeply humiliating, and made the resurrection of his Asianist proposal a defining cause of his premiership. The Canberra– Washington campaign against the EAEG was for him a clear illustration of Western divide-and-rule policies in Asia, and a resounding demonstration of why Asianist regionalism was needed. Canberra's response to his proposal meant he would inevitably react competitively to Australia's regionalist aspirations. Mahathir took the lead in casting doubt over the coherence of the Asia-Pacific idea, a 'region' that nominally included the littoral states of the largest ocean on earth, and ridiculing Australia's pretensions to Asian regional membership. He joined voices in Singapore and Japan arguing that a common commitment to 'Asian values' united the societies of the East Asian region, and ultimately divided them from the hectoring, overbearing West. He refused to attend the inaugural APEC Leaders' Summit in 1993, and ratcheted up the ensuing diplomatic stand-off after Paul Keating described him as 'recalcitrant' as a result.

A master politician to his fingertips, Mahathir realised he had found Australia's glass jaw. The Australian press took a narcissistic delight in the subject of Australia's 'acceptance' by 'Asia' serving up a constant stream of articles with headlines such as 'Can we be part of Asia?' and 'Why we don't rate in Asia', and 'What do Indonesians think of us?'. The Malaysian Prime Minister took great relish in bluntly telling Australian journalists that Australia was not an Asian nation, but could qualify as one when 'perhaps 70 per cent' of its population was of Asian descent.

Australia's residual belonging anxiety meant that the government was obliged to respond. Evans finally resorted to creative cartography. Pointing out that Australia shared broadly the same time zones as the states of Pacific Asia, he defined Australia in March 1995 as:

... an 'East Asian Hemisphere' nation – using that expression in an essentially geographical way, but so as to imply some other layers of connection as well. We are all familiar with the expression 'American Hemisphere' or 'Western Hemisphere' to describe North and South America together ... the segment of the earth's sphere stretching from longitudes west of China to east of Australia, particularly if one includes New Zealand, is not much smaller, so there is nothing incongruous about the geographical (or geometrical) reference. Thinking of ourselves occasionally, as circumstances arise, as an East Asian Hemisphere nation, and having others in the region able to comfortably think of us in this way, can do nothing to harm, and much to advance, Australia's longer term efforts to engage and integrate with this part of the world on which our future so much depends. It would add value both to our perception of ourselves and our role in the region, and to others' perception of us.[xxi]

Mahathir's masterstroke came in 1995 when he persuaded the members of the East Asian Economic Caucus to inaugurate a biennial dialogue with the European Union – to be called the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM. In a single move he elevated his economic group from the status of a caucus within APEC, and by arguing that ASEM was the equivalent of APEC, sent strong signals that APEC should be seen not as a regional organisation but as a regular dialogue between the East Asian economic group and the North American Free Trade Agreement. With the arrival of ASEM Canberra realised it had made a terrible mistake in so strongly opposing EAEG. Mahathir gleefully blocked all Australian approaches to join the dialogue, and savoured the fact that although countries like Singapore and Japan publicly supported Australia's inclusion, none was prepared to go head-to-head with Kuala Lumpur on the issue. Exclusion from ASEM and ongoing prickliness in Australian-Malaysian relations meant the Keating government entered the 1996 election campaign with a substantial question mark over its regional engagement credentials.


HOWARD CAMPAIGNED for office rejecting what he characterised as the Keating government's 'Asia only' foreign policy. In the Coalition's advocacy of 'practical engagement', bilateralism and shared interests there was a refutation of the Keating foreign policy. At an Asialink forum in 2004, Howard said: 'Simple bromides masquerading as grand strategy fail to take account of Asia's diversity. So too they distort Australia's position as a Western country with a unique network of political, economic and people-to-people links with Asia. I make no apology for the fact that we focus our engagement on those relationships and issues that matter most to Australia's interests.'

But there was also a wilful denial of the associated belonging anxieties: 'In my view, much Australian commentary about the region rests on a ... false assumption – that there is some singular entity called "Asia" which we should approach always and everywhere with the same level of intensity independent of Australia's interests. The government's commitment to close engagement in Asia proceeds on the basis of mutual respect. And a key part of this engagement has been our willingness to appreciate Asia's diversity.'[xxii]

Howard was keen to bring an end to what he derided as Keating's and Evans' 'perpetual seminar' on Australia's identity: 'We have stopped worrying whether we are Asian, in Asia, enmeshed with Asia, or part of some mythical East Asian hemisphere. We have got on with the job of being ourselves in the region.'[xxiii] He reacted with bewilderment that the Keating agenda had prompted Huntington's classification of Australia as a torn country: 'Speaking of Australia in the mid-1990s, [Huntington] described it as a torn [country]. I thought that was astonishing. What he was really saying was, we didn't quite know whether we were European ... I thought that was just absurd, that we should be seen as anything other than predominantly a Western society ... The fact that he held that view meant that they were the signals that we were radiating. That's the point ... we engaged in a perpetual seminar about national identity for a period of years ... we went through a period of whether we were too western, or European, or British, or Asian or whatever. I just said that we should be a hundred per cent Australian, which we have always been.'[xxiv]

Foreign Minister Downer later conceded that there might be some forms of regionalism built on common values, but dismissed Keating's vision as a form of regionalism in which Australia was neither qualified to join and nor particularly interested: 'Australia doesn't have those types of emotional associations with the region, and ethnic and cultural associations, very obviously ... For us, regionalism is always going to be practical regionalism looking at ways that we can work with our region to secure our own economic and security objectives.'[xxv]

But the bravado was more rhetorical than real. The Howard Government remained committed to trying to join ASEM, and suffered serial humiliating rebuffs during the first years of its tenure. And even with a new government in Canberra, Mahathir's jibes were still able to shape Australian rhetoric on Asia. One of his taunts – 'When the British were rich, Australia wanted to be British. When the Americans were rich, Australia wanted to be American. Now that Asia is rich, Australia wants to be Asian' – resonated years later and helped shape Canberra's approach to the Asian financial crisis. In offering financial assistance to the worst-affected countries, Australia had, according to Downer, 'shown ourselves to be all-weather friends in Asia, not just fair-weather friends'.[xxvi]


ALEXANDER DOWNER MUST have relished taking on the Foreign Affairs portfolio in 1996, the department he had joined as a graduate recruit twenty years previously. But it was a department whose corridors still rang with the grand foreign policy visions of his predecessor. Gareth Evans, more than any previous foreign minister, had conjured and successfully sold a clear, coherent framework for Australian foreign policy that drew on Labor Party traditions, resonated with Australians' belonging anxieties, coincided with the dominant global mood of internationalism after the Cold War, and sketched a prominent, creative role for Australia on the world stage. On becoming Foreign Minister in 1988, Evans' first instinct was to create a clear intellectual framework for the conduct of foreign relations. He consulted widely, establishing close contacts with prominent international relations scholars, and soon acquired an easy familiarity with the broad outlines of the academic discipline. Evans discovered the intellectual roots of the concept of middle powers – a concept used by his predecessors since the early 1960s – lay in the sixteenth century writings of Giovanni Botero, who argued that such states were powerful enough to be significant on the international stage, but not so powerful to be threatening or intimidating, and in the eighteenth century works of the Abbé de Mably, who wrote that middle powers have a special interest in enhancing the quality of life in the international system and exerting a moderating and pacifying influence on the great powers. This became the foundation of Evans' framework.

Evans forcefully restated the internationalist vision of Labor's great foreign minister, HV Evatt, who believed the fullest possible development of international law and multilateral institutions was fundamental to Australia's national interests. Evatt argued that for a country as small and exposed as Australia, security and prosperity could best be secured through a transformation of the competitive, conflictual international system. Not only would multilateral institutions 'tame' the law-of-the-jungle nature of international relations, the parliamentary nature of such institutions would give Australia a greater voice in international affairs. For Evans, Australia's role in the world was as a 'good international citizen', an activist middle power able to broker imaginative solutions to conflicts and add to the edifice of multilateral institutions and international law. It was a framework that delivered an impressive string of successes: the renegotiation of the Antarctica Treaty, the resolution of the Cambodian war, setting up APEC and inaugurating its annual leaders' meetings, developing and finalising the Comprehensive [Nuclear] Test Ban Treaty, and pushing forward the ASEAN Regional Forum. Evans enjoyed his prominence on the regional and international stage, publishing books on foreign policy and United Nations reform, and was at onetime rumoured to be a contender for the Secretary-Generalship of the UN.

From the Opposition benches, Downer had been scornful of the pretensions of Labor's foreign policy. In the lead-up to the 1996 election, Howard had attacked the Keating government for 'downgrading its ties to the US and Europe'. The Coalition promised a foreign policy committed to a 'focussed, practical and realistic' promotion of national interests.[xxvii] Downer suspected that many within DFAT were converts to the Evans vision, and wanted a clear, compelling, alternative Coalition framework for Australian foreign policy. He commissioned an advisory committee of academics, business people and former officials, supported by a departmental working group, to begin developing a comprehensive framework for the conduct of a Coalition foreign policy.[xxviii]

The result was In the National Interest, the first foreign and trade policy White Paper released by an Australian government, published in September 1997. The White Paper brought together several of the Coalition government's critiques of its predecessor's approach to the region and reiterated distinctive approaches to foreign policy that had been developed over its first eighteen months in office. It promised a foreign policy based on confidence in Australia's international role, an implicit criticism of what the Coalition saw as the Keating government's craving for acceptance by the region. It promised pragmatism in foreign policy, 'the hard-headed pursuit of the interests that lie at the core of foreign and trade policy', once again dismissing what the government saw as the often misguided idealism of ALP foreign policy. And the White Paper made a commitment to focus on bilateral relationships as 'a central feature of the Government's approach to foreign and trade policy', eschewing its Labor predecessor's preference for multilateral 'grand constructs' that the Coalition saw as privileging form over outcomes in international affairs.[xxix]

What is remarkable about the document is its vision. Its second chapter is an extended analysis of the likely evolution of Australia's international context over the following fifteen years: 'The important policy issue for the Government is to identify the major trends which will shape the international environment and the implications of these trends for Australia's national interests and the way in which they are pursued.' It pointed to two trends that would shape the future: globalisation and the 'economic growth of East Asia, and the strategic, political and social changes accompanying this growth, [which] are seminal developments for Australia, the Asia Pacific and the world'. The White Paper argued that one of the significant implications of East Asia's growth would be the 'growing confidence of East Asian countries [which] is increasingly a feature of international relations, with implications beyond the region. It will alter the balance of power and influence in multilateral institutions from the United Nations to the World Trade Organisation.' But the visionary second chapter is followed by chapters on process; there is a stark contrast between the broad horizons and challenges in Australia's region and the careful, pragmatic, eclectic approach to diplomacy signalled by the new government.

The month the White Paper was launched, the Asian financial crisis rippled across the region, laying the Asian economic miracle to waste and pulling the rug out from under one of the key trends identified by the new government as set to profoundly shape Australia's international environment. But the new policy had been launched; there could be no last-minute delay for some frantic rewriting, as had occurred with its successor, Advancing the National Interest, which was tweaked following the Bali bombings. Downer stood firmly behind In the National Interest, but looked less and less to its future vision and more and more to its incrementalist, bilateral methods. It was as if the Howard Government had its hands burnt with the 'vision thing' in the first White Paper. It is very hard to find any sustained attempt by Howard or Downer to stick their heads above the parapet and engage with what they see as the big trends of the future in any of their post1997 speeches. Asia's financial turmoil became a metaphor for mistrusting big transforming trends and for dealing serially with events as they rose from week to week.

The Asian financial crisis also ended Australian visions of Asia as a panglossian region of opportunity. Since the late eighties, the Asian economic miracle was often contrasted with Australia's sluggish growth, external debt and unemployment, dependence on commodities exports, lack of creativity and innovation, and a strike-prone and leisure-craving labour force.[xxx] Asia seemed to point the way forward: its booming, innovative and lean export-oriented economies were a beacon for the imperatives of Australia's own economic reforms; our growing trading intensities with the Asian tigers seemed to be the lifeline out of Australia's long decades of economic difficulties. After the crisis hit, post-mortems began to point out all of the shortcomings of the wounded tigers: poor financial regulation, opaque accounting systems, cronyism, misdirected investment. Although Australia sailed through the crisis largely unaffected, there was a new sensitivity to the bad things that could come out of Asia's instabilities. And so they did: the murderous riots in East Timor, creaky fishing boats laden with asylum-seekers, fanatical suicide bombers bent on killing hundreds of holiday-makers, virulent pandemics. Australia's region became not so much an engine of growth set to transform the world, but an 'arc of instability'.

There was an important psychological shift after the Asian financial crisis. Now it was Australia that appeared the confident, flexible, dynamic model of economic and political organisation, and Asian countries that faced the pain of economic restructuring and rebuilding growth. Once it was Asian leaders such as Singapore's founding Prime Minister, Lee Kwan Yew who dismissed Australia's economic prospects, predicting it would become 'the poor white trash of Asia'. Now Downer declared it was Australia that was the beacon to the former Asian tigers: 'We have through our own strong performance shown the region – and the world – what commitment to openness and transparency in economic and political affairs can achieve.'[xxxi] As a result, according to the Foreign Minister, 'Our advice has carried particular weight for two reasons: because it comes from a country that has prospered when others have been doing it tough, and because we have shown that we are prepared to take our own advice. It has been a case of "do as we say, and do as we do".'[xxxii]


AUSTRALIA'S FOREIGN POLICY in Asia after the financial crisis was shaped more by perspiration than inspiration. Previously, both Coalition and Labor foreign policy had been based on the assumption that the region would change profoundly, and that as a result Australian diplomacy would be best served by seeking to shape those changes in ways compatible with national interests. Defining trends, identity and regional consciousness, and integrative or competitive dynamics were key points of interest. The Howard Government waved these aside. In November 1997 Howard told the Australian Financial Review: 'The recent currency problems in the region have brought new and perhaps more realistic perspectives about the region and our relationship to it ... [Australia] should not consider herself an anxious outsider in the region ... Some are inclined to see the economic, cultural and political differences between Australia and the countries in our region as a problem – or as worrying gaps that should be narrowed by changing ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.'[xxxiii]

The focus would not be on shaping mechanisms; foreign policy would be about achieving immediate, obvious outcomes. Downer declared, 'For us, regionalism is always going to be practical regionalism looking at ways that we can work with our region to secure our own economic and security objectives.'[xxxiv] 'Practical regionalism' was not about regionalism at all – in the sense of building collaborative mechanisms and a feeling of belonging among certain states – but about doing pragmatic things with countries close to Australia on issues where their interests coincided with Canberra's. In this vision of international relations as separate but serial collaborations, 'belonging' was not about membership but about location and establishing a reputation as a country that got things done. Downer abandoned all modesty in sending out this message: 'In reviewing the international response to events in East Timor, it is clear that no other country could have matched Australia's leadership role. We were active at every stage of the diplomatic effort that led up to East Timor's vote on autonomy, and in its aftermath.'[xxxv] In this roll-up-thesleeves approach to diplomacy there was little time for either navel gazing or contemplating the horizon.

As the decade wore on, it became easier for the Howard Government to downplay the importance of formal regional institutions. The institutional innovations of the early 1990s, including APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Free Trade Area, had failed to deliver on the hopes they had raised. All had become bogged down by the inability of key members to agree to make necessary concessions in the interests of advancing the collective cause. And the critique that Downer levelled against ASEAN in 2001 provided a glimpse of Canberra's diagnosis of other regional bodies, all of which had borrowed the 'ASEAN way' of non-confrontational, consensus decision-making: 'ASEAN has a culture of working around problems rather than confronting them. The limits of this approach have been exposed by the financial crisis, and by the way in which expansion has increased ASEAN's political and economic diversity ... it is not clear that "enhanced interaction" ... has brought about any practical change in how ASEAN members interact with each other on sensitive regional issues.'[xxxvi]

So Australian diplomats and leaders continued to attend regional meetings and apply to join East Asian forums, but with much lower expectations. Canberra's enthusiasm for shaping the size, internal structure and evolution of regional mechanisms evaporated; its bursts of energy occurred when forums such as APEC provided convenient contexts for advancing practical policy objectives, such as sending peacekeepers to East Timor. But the general sense was that it was a waste of effort trying to shape the region's evolution in ways compatible with Canberra's interests, because the region didn't seem to be evolving in any particular direction any time soon.

There is quite a bit of evidence that this was not an unduly dismissive diagnosis. A series of challenges to the region's collective resilience saw established regional organisations fail to respond, and new collaborative measures either shrivel on the vine or be watered down towards ineffectiveness. The Asian Development Bank, ASEAN and APEC failed to produce any decisive response to the Asian finance crisis beyond declarations and calls for assistance.[xxxvii] Japan's proposal for the establishment of an Asian Monetary Fund withered in the face of United States opposition, while an East Asian Currency Swap arrangement turned out to be a largely symbolic gesture towards regional co-operation, when in fact most regional economies were shifting towards floating their currencies.[xxxviii] There was further disillusion with regional institutions when an Australian-led peacekeeping operation was introduced into East Timor to stem the post-plebiscite carnage. A September 1999 Bangkok Post editorial lamented: 'The case of East Timor underscores the failure of ASEAN to deal with the internal conflicts of member countries when they escalate to cause international outrage and threaten the stability of the whole region. If the image of Caucasian troops imposing peace on Asia creates discomfort for Asia, because the West at one time colonised most of the members, then the regional grouping must re-define the role that it should play in these internal matters. The mechanisms and willingness must be found to allow members to address issues that could blow up in their faces.'[xxxix]


WHILE REGIONAL INSTITUTIONS dithered in the face of the Asian financial crisis, China made a decision not to devalue its currency. In the scheme of things, this was a relatively minor commitment; while the affected economies certainly would have been damaged by a competitive devaluation of the yuan, the decision to maintain the value of the currency carried benefits for China also. What took Beijing by surprise was the outpouring of gratitude from around the region. Countries that had barely blinked at Japan's announcement of the $21 billion dollar Miyazawa initiative of regional assistance were gushing in their praise of Beijing's 'gesture of solidarity' and 'attitude of responsibility' towards the region. Regional countries had been disillusioned by what they had seen as the lack of concern of the United States and international institutions for their plight, and disgusted by Japan's backdowns in the face of Washington's objections to its bold plans for regional recovery. In this milieu, even a minor concession by Beijing assumed major importance.

The psychological effect of this episode on Beijing was profound. The 1990s had been a difficult decade for the occupants of Zhongnanhai. After the Tiananmen massacre had plunged China into renewed international isolation, the main imperative had become to re-engage, while maintaining the path to development and avoiding a Soviet-style implosion of Communist Party rule. Deng Xiaoping and the other Chinese leaders realised that a significant stimulus for the Tiananmen protests were the pressures that many of the post-1978 reforms had placed on urban workers, an insight that led the Chinese Communist Party to redouble its efforts towards promoting economic development and bringing the benefits of rising living standards to China's expanding urban population. The pursuit of economic reform to a centrally planned economy meant that Beijing had become preoccupied with the dilemmas of steady yet fast economic growth: social dislocation, a mushrooming middle-class with expanding expectations, rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, and severe infrastructure shortfalls. Domestically, the pursuit of sustainable reform and broadly distributed growth had become central to regime tenure and political stability; continuing growth depended on access to international resources and international markets; the disruption of access to either could choke off economic growth and lead to serious internal instability.

A belief spread among other countries in the region that these imperatives could be used to gradually draw China into regional institutions, and that Beijing's greater 'enmeshment' in such institutions would slowly 'socialise' a potentially disruptive giant into the accepted ways of behaviour in the region. But China was deeply sceptical of the post-Cold War enthusiasm for institutions that infected most of its neighbours. Due to its size and the confidence born of its historical role in Asia, China preferred to deal bilaterally with other Asian states, a setting in which it believed it could dominate. Beijing saw the multilateral processes of regional institutions as potentially dampening its natural size advantage, and even creating settings in which smaller countries would be able to form coalitions against China's interests.[xl] Beijing had learned from the experience of being excluded and marginalised by international organisations, as it had been between 1949 and 1972, and how powerful states could use its eagerness to join an organisation to wring concessions from it, as Washington had done during China's lengthy accession to the World Trade Organisation between 1996 and 1999.

It was not just that Beijing was prepared to gun down large numbers of its own people for daring to demand more rights that worried its neighbours. Since 1949 China had been involved in military conflicts with or within seven neighbouring countries. Of the fourteen land borders China shares with other countries, at least four are disputed; it also has maritime territorial claims overlapping with those of seven other countries. After the Sino-Soviet split in the mid-1960s, China viewed the volatile decolonising and developing world as offering it the greatest opportunity to advance its foreign policy of 'liberating' colonised peoples from the hegemonism of the superpowers.[xli] Lin Biao, Mao's close associate and the general who had lead the People's Liberation Army into Beijing in 1949, provided a compelling framework for China's policies toward Asia when in September 1965 he described Western democracies as 'the cities of the world', and developing states 'the rural areas of the world' which would ultimately encircle, besiege and overthrow 'the cities' in a global communist revolution.[xlii] By the mid-1960s, Beijing was providing material, training and propaganda support to a range of insurgent movements across South-East and South Asia, denouncing the formation of ASEAN and the governments of ASEAN as structures of the imperialist world order. Even after it ended support for communist insurgencies in the 1980s, Beijing continued to assert its interests abrasively. Each time China was goaded into an overbearing, aggressive response over Taiwan or maritime claims it alarmed regional countries and increased sympathy for Beijing's antagonists.


AMONG THE GROUP that had been invited to the talks I attended at Huairou in 1996 was the then National Security Adviser of the Philippines. Impressed by the frankness of the discussions, he offered to host follow-up discussions the following year. On our arrival in Manila we were treated to a full police escort, sirens blaring, between the airport and the hotel, an intervention that appeared to make very little impact on the city's gridlocked traffic. In the year between the Huairou and Manila talks, China published several maps claiming most of South China Sea, and there were armed confrontations between China and the Philippines in the contested waters. Our host included in his opening speech on the evening preceding the talks some frank remarks about China's behaviour and its regional implications. That night I was awakened by banging on my door. It was the entire Chinese delegation, furious and shouting. They demanded we arrange an immediate public retraction of the comments by our host or they would take the next flight back to Beijing. That there could be no question of acceding to their demands seemed not to deter them; several of our delegation experienced in dealing with China had seen many such displays and counselled an uncompromising response. A long night of increasingly ugly negotiations resulted in the delegation staying without any retraction or apology from our host. The delegation participated in the talks as if nothing had happened. I wondered whether the episode had been about the internal dynamics of the Chinese delegation; as they warmly shook my hand at the end of the talks, it appeared they cared little about the impressions they had left with me or my colleagues.

Back in Beijing, China's leaders had begun to realise that it would be difficult to sustain the country's economic growth in a globalising world if other countries continued to be suspicious of its motives and wary of its rising power.[xliii] Its scholars and officials became increasingly attuned to the historical examples of Wilhelmine Germany and Meiji Japan, whose rise brought them into conflict with established powers and ended in their destruction. With the chorus of regional applause that greeted the decision not to devalue to yuan during the Asian financial crisis, the penny dropped. China would break the mould; it would show through its actions that its rise was nonthreatening and non-disruptive. The policy began to be discussed in academic and policy debates as the 'peaceful rise' strategy, but even the word 'rise' came to be seen as too assertive, and so it became the 'peaceful development' strategy.

The change in Chinese diplomacy has been astonishing. The message has shifted dramatically. Territorial disputes have been either resolved or shelved. Beijing has adopted an 'everyone's a winner' approach to building relations with South-East Asian and Pacific Island states. Its diplomats have taken great pains to emphasise that China's growth and dynamism are not threats but opportunities for its southern neighbours, many of which directly compete with the simple manufactured exports that China produces in floods. Trade agreements have been signed with all of the countries of South-East Asia, and those with the poorer countries of the region contain generous 'early harvest' commitments that allow the smaller partner to access the benefits of the agreement much sooner. China's aid budget rose from 4.6 billion yuan in 2000 to 7.5 billion in 2005; some estimate that China is now a bigger aid donor than Australia. Beijing has become a vocal champion of the development interests of smaller states, and their need for a greater voice in international relations. Many have contrasted Beijing's willingness to help and refusal to lecture its neighbours with the litany of American demands about human rights, environmental standards, governance and terrorism. In May 2007 Beijing hosted a visit from General Surayud, the Thai leader installed after the September 2006 military coup, to sign a 'strategic plan of action' with Thailand, in pointed distinction to Western countries that continue to freeze out the military-backed government.

The messengers have also changed. China no longer staffs its embassies and consulates with abrasive and inflexible ideologues. Its representatives are invariably fluent in the local language and well schooled in their host country's culture and history. Often they have had several postings to the same country. They rarely hector or demand; in multilateral settings if they object to a proposal they prefer not to oppose it directly but rather to lament the lack of consensus and work quietly to water it down. It is hard to think of another foreign ministry in the world that could have achieved such a profound reorientation in its diplomatic techniques, personnel and message in so short a period.

The signs of China's growing influence in the rest of the region are unmistakeable; and there is much to suggest that this is not only the result of Beijing's diplomacy. In the early 1990s it was rare to see shop signs in Jakarta or Bangkok using Chinese characters. Worried about subversion by Chinese-dominated communist parties supported by Beijing, dictators and military juntas reacted by suppressing as many signs of Chineseness as they could. Suharto banned the teaching of Chinese language, the public display of Chinese characters and the celebration of Chinese New Year and Confucian marriages and ceremonies. Chinese Indonesians were barred from entering the civil service, the military or politics, and were encouraged to adopt Indonesian names. In Thailand, monarchs and dictators buttressed their power by promoting the myth of a mono-ethnic nation, forcing Chinese Thais to adopt Thai names and eradicating the teaching of Chinese in all but the remote border provinces. But as the nineties drew to a close, Chinese characters had returned to more and more of the shop fronts of South-East Asia's major cities. Indonesia's newly elected President Abdurrahman Wahid eased restrictions on displays of Chineseness and the study of the language; his successor Megawati Sukarnoputri restored the right to celebrate Chinese New Year. Growing numbers of Chinese Thais began writing their Chinese names, in Chinese, on the back of their business cards. Chinese Thai politicians campaigning for office flaunted their Chinese identity to drum up votes in heavily ethnic Chinese districts. Thaksin Shinawatra made great use of his Chinese heritage, not least to build influence and access in Beijing. But that did not stop a Beijing that once showed great concern for the fate of overseas Chinese from refusing Thaksin refuge after he was toppled in the September coup, or from welcoming his coup-appointed successor to Beijing.

China's building of influence is not just about being nice. Having been dragged kicking into APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum at the outset, it has begun to engage energetically in the region's institutions: chairing panels, suggesting initiatives, campaigning for reforms. And Beijing knows how to display its magnanimity and use symbolism to greatest effect. When impoverished Laos hosted the ASEAN Leaders Forum in 2004, China provided large grants to assist Vientiane to host the key meeting of an organisation to which Beijing is only an observer. The following year, when the ASEAN Regional Forum met in Cambodia, the Chinese representative spoke in Chinese, through an interpreter – despite the fact that ASEAN's official language of business is English and all the other participants knew very well that he spoke English fluently.


WHAT'S HAPPENING IN Asia is not just about China. Nor is it simply a post-Asian financial crisis resumption of the 'Asian economic miracle'. The Asian 'miracle' began with the astonishingly fast postwar development of Japan, and the emulation of its success and some of its methods by a series of 'flying geese' following its lead: Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. These states were on the periphery of the Asian landmass and relied heavily on their ability to access Western markets with their consumer goods; it is no accident that the Asian miracle line-up contains Washington's closest friends in the region. The difference now is that major, sustained economic growth has moved to the Asian landmass and its major economies. Rapid, sustained development is no longer the peripheral exception in Asia: it is becoming the rule.

Proclamations stating that the West was the winner from globalisation were premature. While globalisation has delivered more affordable consumer lifestyles and greater disposable income than ever before to us in the West, it is Asia's giants that are the main beneficiaries of the growing interdependence of the world's economy. Advancing interconnectedness has liberated the dormant potential of hundreds of millions in China and India from the dead hand of centrally directed economies, sclerotic enterprise cultures, and limited access to investment, knowledge and infrastructure. The result has been the lifting of millions out of poverty, the growing self-confidence of whole societies, and the deepening of the significance of Asia to the global economy.

It is generally thought that the United States is the engine of globalisation, a vast economy sitting at the centre of the processes of interdependence, its buoyancy and dynamism essential to the continuation of the process. But a different picture emerges when one looks at the trade figures. The growth rates of most economies' trade with China and increasingly India dwarf the growth of their trade with the United States or the European Union. China is now one of the largest trade partners of most countries in this region. A new, China-centred dynamic of regional economic integration has emerged in East Asia. Currently around 58 per cent of China's exports go to other East Asian states, and about 47 per cent of China's imports come from the region. East Asia supplies 60 per cent of China's foreign direct investment, compared with 20 per cent from the US and Europe combined. China's growth has been the single greatest driver of the recent economic growth of other East Asian countries. Currently the New York, London and Tokyo stock exchanges are the centre of global financial attention; in a couple of years Shanghai will join them, followed closely by Mumbai. The new centres of globalisation are Asian.

Globalisation, paradoxically, makes geography matter more in sourcing supplies and establishing trade partnerships: because so many more parts of the production chain are externally sourced, companies are eager to obtain resources, materials and components from closer sites to minimise cost. This trend, plus China's and India's economic dynamism, has started to draw together Asia's different sub-regions into tighter and more sustained patterns of interdependence than has occurred for hundreds of years. An example is in the continent's energy trade. China's dependence on oil imports increased from 6.8 per cent in 1994 to 47.8 per cent in 2004, while India's averaged 60.4 per cent for the decade. Both giants and their oil-importing neighbours are increasingly relying on Middle East exporters for their oil and gas, which supplies 80 per cent of the region's oil needs, just as North America moves towards Atlantic basin supplies and Europe towards Central Asian, African, and Atlantic Basin supplies. These rising energy trade intensities between West Asia and East and South Asia are also being matched by interdependent investment patterns, with East Asian economies beginning to invest in upstream energy producing operations in West Asia, and West Asian investors buying into downstream refining and distribution in East Asia.[xliv]

And it may not only be about trade. Old cultural connections may begin to be re-plumbed. There are now more South Koreans studying in China than in the United States. And as India looks past the Himalayas to the Persian Gulf for its energy security, it will see the domes and canals in Karbala and Najaf financed centuries ago by shipments of gold from the Shi'ite kingdom of Oudh centred on Lucknow in north-central India. In recent history, Asia has been divided into sub-regions, each with closer relations with other continents than with each other; now these sub-regions are reconnecting and competing.

Attention has begun to turn to how Asia's economic rise will affect the rest of the world. In an ironic twist of one of Chairman Mao's favourite sayings, that 'only socialism can save China', Tsinghua University's Qin Hui wonders whether China will end up destroying socialism, as its low wages and human rights laxity slowly undermine the welfare state in the West.[xlv] Others argue that the West's blue-collar workers may not be the eventual losers from globalisation, but its white-collar workers, who may ultimately see millions of jobs outsourced to India. One important factor is that China and India will increasingly be less dependent on the global economy than the global economy is on them. Analysis shows that in only two of the last twenty years did the external sector play a significant role in China's economic growth. In other words, most of the economic dynamism of these vast societies comes from the demand of their internal markets, a proportion that will rise as their prosperous, consumer-oriented middle classes continue to expand.

Of course, there remain questions about the sustainability of China's and India's growth rates. Both have serious problems with corruption, poorly managed financial sectors, widening social inequality, inadequate infrastructure and looming environmental crises. The excesses of China's authoritarian political system and the indulgences of India's democracy and civil society organisations are also touted as checks on development. It is quite likely that both countries will experience corrections in their economic development; what is less likely is that such corrections will result in their systems completely falling apart.


INCREASINGLY, WHAT SEEMS to hold these vast societies together and orient them in a common direction is an idea: the shared conviction among the billion-plus population of each country that China and India are returning to a place in the front rank of nations. Imbuing the national conversation of each seems to be a growing consciousness of their status as a civilisation that was once one of the world's centres of gravity and, after a period of Western ascendancy, will be again. One feels it in the revival of interest in Confucianism, Qing dynasty history and the classics of Chinese literature in China; and in the huge popularity of movie and comic book renditions of stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata in India. It is this shared hunger for development and prestige that will likely keep both giants on the upward trend – and their rise will increasingly call forth new centres of power in Asia. Already, China's rise is causing Japan to change its strategic shape, while Iranian society's awareness of its ancient greatness is at least one factor explaining its push for nuclear status and greater regional influence.

As important as the economic figures are the psychological shifts they herald. The idea of their rise has made China and India intensely pragmatic about their pursuit of development. Officials, business people and engineers from both countries have become eager collectors of techniques that can be adopted or adapted to further their particular goals. Western aid officials, for example, are increasingly convinced that China still accepts foreign aid not because it needs the money, but because it wants to learn the governance, management or engineering techniques that are offered with the aid. However, both countries have the self-confidence that allows them to reject the full Western development models that are often foisted on developing states. They are interested in what works, rather than in intellectually elegant, internally coherent frameworks. Beijing increasingly advocates the principle in its own foreign aid that each country's development strategy must be based on its unique national circumstances. It is a model of pragmatic development that increasingly interests China's South-East Asian neighbours, a trend that is slowly sidelining reams of Western development expertise. China and the South-East Asian economies have learned well the lessons of the Asian crisis: they are building up currency reserves, promptly retiring debt and taking a range of other measures against currency shocks, leaving the International Monetary Fund in particular increasingly marginalised.

The new pragmatism explains the non-resurgence of the Asian values discourse after the Asian financial crisis. The new practicality in the region has little time for grand unifying or justifying schemes of any sort; there is little appetite to contest Western hubris about the superiority of its way of doing things. And the pre-Asian crisis assertions of a superior, Confucian/collectivist modernity as the cause of Asia's success would fit less and less well with the changes occurring in Asian societies.

Globalisation is an economic and social order that has trade and profit at its heart. As a result, the communal nature of many traditional Asian societies is being eroded, and the role of the individual (and the family) elevated. This has been occurring in the West, but over a longer period. Increasingly, the desire to connect and belong is satisfied by consumption. Belonging and authenticity is for sale in vast shopping malls throughout Asia, just as it is in Australia, the USA and Europe. An Asian obsession with Western designer brands is now accompanied by something more unique. An explosion in popular cultures, infusing Western pop-culture forms with local Asian cultural forms, has been the result. Chinese rap artists return to centuries-old forms of 'talking music' for inspiration; bhangra, a funked-up version of Punjabi folk music, has taken off in Asian and Western nightclubs; Japanese teen love songs top the charts across Asia.

There is much to lament about such cultural change: it is harder and harder, for example, to find the distinctive, authentic street food that once made Singapore so exotic now that the use of pre-packaged spices is widespread. But there are important shifts in confidence too. The surging Korean cinema industry is now a model of innovation and dynamism for Asian and Western filmmakers, and Hollywood is buying up the remake rights to dozens of Korean films. There is more and more evidence that Asian pop culture is profoundly influencing Western pop culture as Western audiences grow increasingly tired of remakes, sampling and constant nostalgic cycles. Increasingly, it is in Asia that the latest developments in consumer technologies appear; Western travellers return marvelling at what they've seen in the size and design of must-have items.


WHILE ALL OF this epochal change has been occurring in our region, we've stopped listening, distracted by pointless debates about ourselves and who we are. The Asian financial crisis, the East Timor chaos, the terrorism, the boat people, settled Australian society back into a complacency about the region, and the absence of any pressing imperative in Australia to watch or come to terms with its region. The imperative became about trying to manage the region's unfortunate impacts on us – a strikingly familiar theme through our history.

The result of these ongoing changes will be a profound alteration of Australia's international environment. The coming decades will see the rise of a very different international order from that which is familiar to us today. For the first time in five hundred years, countries neither Western nor allied with the West will play a major role in shaping international institutions and diplomatic norms. The authoritative sources of norms and practices in the international system will become much more heterogeneous. The great powers will have fewer normative goals in common, and agreement on international order will coalesce around much lower common denominators: sovereignty, strict limits on the use of force, the sanctity of treaties. The heady days of the 'responsibility to protect' human rights or other liberal democratic values will be a thing of the past. There is little sign that Asia's democratic great powers have the same evangelical zeal as their Western counterparts.

The passing of the centuries-long era in which the rules, languages and institutions of global order were set exclusively by Western countries will have profound implications for Australia. Canberra's diplomats have always enjoyed the advantage of being able to operate internationally in a culturally familiar environment; it is their non-Western counterparts who have had to learn less familiar ways of operating. And Australia will see its international significance decline as the West becomes less significant in the world.

Australia also stands to lose another advantage in international relations: its ability to operate effectively within international institutions that matter. The rise of non-Western great powers will also lead to the declining effectiveness of global institutions. The past half-century has shown us how poorly able to reform their structures of influence international institutions are. They tend to preserve the power structures and deals that existed at the time of their founding; and privileged members, especially powers on the wane, are reluctant to concede any of the influence they possess. It is also very difficult to disestablish institutions, because to do so is to threaten the sunk costs involved in their establishment, to call into question the ideals around which they were formed, and to risk an unravelling of the international agreements they uphold. So the answer has simply been to build new institutions around new power or interest configurations. These start off as ad hoc meetings, but slowly acquire the accoutrements of regularity and permanence. In the process the international stage becomes increasingly cluttered, more and more diplomatic resources are sucked up into servicing institutions, and less and less diplomacy of importance is conducted through them.


THESE ARE BIGGER challenges over a longer term than any modern Australia has previously faced. This country is more dependent on the outside world than most; the proportion of the Australian economy that is trade-dependent and deep seated general isolation anxieties mean that this is a dependence that is unlikely to wane. For most of our history we have been able to rely on powerful countries that think very much as we do to do the right thing by us internationally. Ironically, this has bred in a country so dependent on the outside world an extraordinary complacency about what's happening beyond our shores, a complacency nicely expressed in Midnight Oil's 'The Forgotten Years':

Our shoreline was never invaded,
Our country was never in flames
This is the calm we breathe ...

The years ahead will tweak many of Australia's international anxieties. China has begun selectively to deploy the sort of Asianist concepts that have always had the capacity to engage our exclusion fears. This new tactic first became manifest in the run-up to the December 2005 East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur. China's preference for the East Asia Summit was that it would include only ASEAN+3 countries, a move opposed by Japan, which began a campaign to invite additional countries to the summit. Beijing's envoys argued that East Asian countries face distinctive but common challenges in the current international order, and will only be able to respond adequately if they are able to caucus among themselves, and leave behind outside commitments and considerations. The People's Daily criticised Japan for 'trying to drag countries outside this region such as Australia and India into the Community to serve as a counterbalance to China'.[xlvi] On arriving in Kuala Lumpur in 2005, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao asserted, 'the East Asian Summit should respect the desires of East Asian countries and should be led only by East Asian countries'. He thereby set up an implicit contrast between China's vision of 'East Asia for the East Asians' and Japan's vision of perpetuating Western dominance of the region. The resulting summit represented a stalemate between Beijing and Tokyo. Japan was successful in having India, Australia and New Zealand invited to Kuala Lumpur. China countered by inserting into the Chair's concluding statement that the ASEAN+3 grouping would be 'a vehicle for realising the dreams of forming the East Asian Community'.

In such episodes one glimpses the shape of things to come: a world in which competing great powers strive to shape the regional environment and check each other's aspirations; a world in which Australia's interests are met, or not, in the course of the fallout of these great power contests. This is a world that will be much harder for even the most powerful to shape; for a smaller country to have any chance it must think about things and make its moves much further in advance than the others.

Arguably, Australia has never nurtured and developed a capacity to focus on the far future and shape its responses to current situations according to an understanding of its long-term interests. Partly it is the lucky country syndrome, resulting from the knowledge and experience that every time a major challenge arises, Australia has pragmatically managed to avoid the really hard choices. But it's also about national political culture, which likes results and hates big, waffly ideas. And it's also about executive overload, the heavy dominance of foreign policy making by a select few who also attend to the day-to-day management of the political cycle.

Australian foreign policy has dealt with an uncertain future by putting in place mechanisms in the hope that, whatever occurs, some combination of institutional responses will be adequate to deal with it. We're good at institutions. But the act of putting in place an institution short-circuits any need to think hard about the outside world or the future. Institutions are tangible, reassuring. But we tend to invest in building institutions and then sit back and leave other countries to determine their objectives. The rise of Asianism in the 1990s shows that building institutions can create unexpected problems. The challenge that Australian diplomacy sets for itself is to try to reconcile Australia's institutional commitments with each other and with the ebb and flow of events. Whatever happens in the future, it seems that institutions are non-negotiable.

This contorted way of conducting foreign policy will become harder and harder in the coming decades. For several reasons, the region immediately to our north will become one of the most intensely contested by the great powers for diplomatic influence. Already we can see the use of regional institutions by China, Japan and the United States including APEC and ASEAN, as vehicles in their competition with each other. The heightening of such competitive regionalism will see Australia's ability to reconcile its institutional commitments stretched to breaking point – the tight-rope walk of being everyone's best friend, a middle power that can achieve its own goals without having to take sides as the great powers jostle between themselves, will require greater agility than Australia has demonstrated since the Second World War when taking sides was not negotiable.

Australian foreign policy-makers must emerge from their satisfaction with institutions and start to think clearly about the future. Long-term planning in foreign policy is different from that in other policy realms, in which governments have much greater capacity to authoritatively set outcomes. In foreign policy, long-term planning must be oriented to achieving a mutual reconciliation between our core national interests, the flow of history and projections decades into the future. It's not about fortune-telling: it's about thinking hard about how currently observable trends are likely to evolve and interact, how they may be subject to sudden disjunctures, and how different scenarios may impact on our ability to live according to the values that are most important to us.

Foreign policy planning must begin with this picture, an idea of what will be an acceptable state of affairs for us in the world that will exist several decades hence. It must then think carefully about what contributing components will be necessary to bring about this situation. Fundamental, hard thinking, involving tough choices in an increasingly unstable world where the geo-politics is changing, is not something for which Australia is prepared – instead we have become adept at pragmatically reacting, leaving leadership and creative thinking to others. An analogy can be drawn from macroeconomic policy-making. A fundamental rethinking of the Australian economic framework took place in the early 1980s when the Campbell Committee considered the available options and their costs and benefits. A profound reform of the economy has progressively been implemented ever since: the currency floated, the Reserve Bank became independent, tariff barriers fell and competition and deregulation became the norm. Once the goals of continued growth, low inflation and a stable economy were established, the best means of achieving them could be pursued.

In other words, institutions are the means, not the end. Australian foreign policy needs to learn the same lessons. And the selection of mechanisms must be carefully mindful of context. What works in Europe may not work in Asia; what may be the perfect solution for our current needs may set off reactions among other states that will be highly damaging in future. A strong understanding of causality in international relations will draw these components together: what works and what misfires, in which situations. It involves thinking as carefully about our past diplomatic successes and failures as well as trying to imagine the future: long-range planning needs retrodiction as well as prediction.

This will be an extremely difficult process. It is highly unlikely that it will result suddenly in a grand thirty-year plan for Australian foreign policy. There will be much contestation, and inevitably some false starts. But many of the benefits will lie in the process of thinking hard about the future, about how Australia wants to be seen, how it wants to participate in the world, whether a middle power model may make as much sense in the twenty-first century as it did in the sixteenth, and what the costs and benefits might be. Then the challenge will be to achieve an acceptable synthesis. This will require a major shift in the way we think. As the great political scientist Aaron Wildavsky observed in 1972: 'Planning requires the power to maintain the pre-eminence of future objectives in the present. The nation's rulers must be able to commit its existing resources to the accomplishment of future objectives ... If planning is to be more than an academic exercise, it must actually guide the making of governmental decisions. Governmental actions ... must in large measure conform to the plan if it is to have practical effect.'[xlvii] In other words, we are talking about a revolution in the way Canberra conducts its foreign policy.


BUT IT'S NOT just a job for the Australian government: this is a society-wide enterprise. Discussion of the most important values and the way we live cannot be just the preserve of government. The looming conversation about belonging and identity will need to be very different from past discussions. The world around us is changing and so too is this country. Previous attempts to impose definitions of belonging and identity, initiated by governments and driven by Prime Ministers from Whitlam to Howard, have attempted to respond to changing dynamics.[xlviii] These 'debates' have not only got us nowhere, but they have driven our foreign policy discussion in sterile directions, towards whether we can reconcile 'Western' and 'Asian' commitments.

And it is at the margins, outside of these phoney identity discussions, that the real progress in thinking about core values has occurred over the past decade. So after the flurry Hanson raised over the 'Asianisation of Australia', during the watch of a Prime Minister who once voiced discomfort with the levels of Asian migration to Australia, we've seen the highest levels ever of Asian migration to this country. It's a fact that's obvious to all – not least to the Prime Minister in his very ethnically diverse electorate. Yet the 'Asianisation of Australia' is no longer a major issue of contention or debate. East Asian Australians are no longer feared invaders: their presence at schools, universities, shopping centres and sporting grounds raises barely a flicker of interest or comment. We have grown more tolerant – as Asian Australians have become a 'normal' part of Australia – but have transferred our fear to West Asians and Muslims. Surely Virgil's Aeneas was speaking down the ages when he asked:

We kept afloat, we few,
To reach your coast. What race of men is this?
What primitive state could sanction this behaviour?
Even on the beaches we are denied a landing,
Harried by outcry and attack, forbidden
To set foot on the outskirts of your country.
If you care nothing for humanity
And merely mortal arms, respect the gods
Who are mindful of good actions and of evil!

But Australian consideration of the future can't only be about ourselves, our values and our way of life with an expectation that others will converge with us. Australia has always been heavily influenced from beyond these shores, and will continue to be in the decades ahead. But in the past the most important outside influence was great Western powers; in future the influences will become non-Western. Events, people and history to the north will increasingly determine our collective fortunes. After a period of comfortable complacency, Australians seem to be emerging from the narrowed horizons of the 1990s. Perhaps it was the millennium bug, or 9/11, that marked the beginning of a profound shift in Australian thinking about long-term issues – or perhaps it was as recent as the seemingly never-ending droughts of the past decade.

For whatever reason, while we have been distracted, the region in which the globe's shifting plates left this land has cast off the shackles of several centuries of colonialism, war and poverty and is finding itself again. For the first time since European settlement our horizon will move steadily, seriously and irrevocably north. This is not the end of civilisation, but the beginning of a new phase in which the oldest civilisations will again prevail. History has not ended, it is just beginning again.


[i] Commonwealth of Australia, House of Representatives Official Hansard, Wednesday, 18 June 1996, p. 2065

[ii] Quoted in Rachel Bridge, 'Downer Under Siege for Aid 'U-Turn'', South China Morning Post, 24 July 1996

[iii] Mark Baker, 'China Launches Double Attack', Sydney Morning Herald, 8 August 1996

[iv] 'US, Australia Play Down Criticism on Taiwan Links', South China Morning Post, 9 August 1996

[v] Ted Plafker, 'Dalai Lama Hails 'Positive' Howard Talks', South China Morning Post, 27 September 1996

[vi] Stephen Hutcheon, 'Australia Under Fire Over Policy on Asia', Sydney Morning Herald, 30 October 1996

[vii] Stephen Hutcheon, 'UN Vote Blamed on Poor Links to Asia', Sydney Morning Herald, 5 November 1996

[viii] Samuel P Huntington, The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003, p. 138

[ix] Ibid., p. 151

[x] Paul Keating, Engagement: Australia Faces the Asia Pacific, Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2000, p. 245

[xi] See Gareth Evans, 'Australia in East Asia and the Asia Pacific: Beyond the Looking Glass' Asia-Australia Institute Fourteenth Asia Lecture, Sydney, 20 March 1995.

[xii] Quoted in James Curran, The Power of Speech, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2004, p. 255

[xiii] Quoted in Russell B Trood, 'Australian Diplomatic Practice: Methods and Theory', Journal of Asian and African Studies, 25:1-2, 1990, p. 89.

[xiv] Quoted in Paul Curran, The Power of Speech, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2004, p. 26

[xv] W. K. Hancock, Australia, Brisbane: Jacaranda Press, 1961

[xvi] Quoted in Curran, The Power of Speech, p. 30

[xvii] Editorial, The Sydney Mail, 19 August 1908

[xviii] Quoted in Curran, The Power of Speech, p. 33.

[xix] David Lowe, Menzies and the 'Great World Struggle': Australia's Cold War 1948-1954, Sydney: UNSW Press, 1999, pp. 77-8

[xx] Robert Menzies, The Measure of the Years, London: Cassell, 1970, p. 4.

[xxi] Evans, 'Australia in East Asia and the Asia Pacific: Beyond the Looking Glass'

[xxii] John Howard, Address to the Asialink-ANU National Forum, 'Australia's Engagement with Asia: A New Paradigm', 13 August 2004

[xxiii] John Howard, Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 21 September 1999, p.10029

[xxiv] Quoted in Garran, True Believer, p. 52

[xxv] Quoted in Paul Kelly, 'One Club We Won't be Joining', The Australian, 26 April 2000

[xxvi] Alexander Downer, 'Australia and Asia – A New Paradigm for the Relationship', Speech to the Foreign Correspondents' Association, Sydney, 16 April 1999, mimeo, p. 4

[xxvii] Liberal Party of Australia, "A Confident Australia: Coalition Foreign Affairs Policy, Victoria: LPA, 1996.

[xxviii] Allan Gyngell and Michael Wesley, Making Australian Foreign Policy, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 25.

[xxix] Commonwealth of Australia, In the National Interest: Australia's Foreign and Trade Policy White Paper, Canberra: National Capital Publishing, 1997.

[xxx] See for example Richard McGregor and David Lague, 'Why We Don't Rate in Asia', Weekend Australian, 6-7 November 1993.

[xxxi] Alexander Downer, 'Australia's Role in a Region in Crisis: Leading By Example', Speech to the Economist's Sixth Foreign Investor Roundtable, Canberra, 30 March 1999

[xxxii] Alexander Downer, 'Australian Leadership in Asia' Speech to Austcham, Hong Kong, 16 July 1999

[xxxiii] John Howard, quoted in the Australian Financial Review, 12 November 1997

[xxxiv] Alexander Downer, quoted in the Australian, 26 April 2000

[xxxv] Alexander Downer, 'Australia at Year's End: Retrospect and Prospect' Speech at the National Press Club, Canberra, 1 December 1999

[xxxvi] Alexander Downer, "What Australia Wishes for ASEAN", Speech to the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Singapore, 23 July 2001

[xxxvii] Michael Wesley, 'The Asian Financial Crisis and the Adequacy of Regional Institutions', Contemporary Southeast Asia,

[xxxviii] Edward J. Lincoln, East Asian Economic Regionalism, Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2004, p. 5.

[xxxix] 'ASEAN has invited Howard's bravado', Bangkok Post, 22 September 1999

[xl] Steven I Levine, 'China in Asia: The PRC as a Regional Power' in Harry Harding (ed), China's Foreign Relations in the 1980s, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984

[xli] Peter Van Ness, Revolution and Chinese Foreign Policy: Peking's Support for Wars of National Liberation, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971, p. 15.

[xlii] Roderick MacFarquhar (ed) Sino-American Relations, 1949-1971, Melbourne: Wren Publishing, 1972

[xliii] Avery Goldstein, Rising to the Challenge: China's Grand Strategy and International Security, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, p. 12

[xliv] Avery Goldstein, Rising to the Challenge: China's Grand Strategy and International Security, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, p. 12

[xlv] Qin Hui, 'Only China Can Destroy Socialism?', Conference on Thinking Ahead: Chinese Visions on a Global Scale, Monash University, 15-17 August 2007

[xlvi] Quoted in Malik, 'China and the East Asia Summit', p. 4

[xlvii] Aaron Wildavsky, "If Planning is Everything, Maybe It's Nothing", Policy Sciences, 4, 1973, p. 133

[xlviii] See James Curran, The Power of Speech, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2003

[xlix] Virgil, The Aeneid, Trans. Robert Fitzgerald, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983, Book 1, pp. 22-23

Get the latest essay, memoir, reportage, fiction, poetry and more.

Subscribe to Griffith Review or purchase single editions here.

Griffith Review