Language barrier hurts Australia's relationship with Asia

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Feb 17 02:10:01 UTC 2009

Language barrier hurts Australia's relationship with Asia

Updated February 16, 2009 11:01:15

For two decades, Australia has sought to deepen its relationship to
Asia, in part because of the logic of location, in part for trade
reasons, but also pulled by a global shift of power to the
Asia-Pacific region. But culturally it appears Australia is still not
making the progress it should in Asia, and a lack of language
capability is key. And though China, Japan and the ASEAN block are
powerful economic partners for Australia, its more about trade and
less about investment. They're some of the findings from a new index
on Australia's engagement with the region.

Presenter: Linda Mottram
Speakers: Simon Crean, Australia's Trade Minister; Professor Tony
Milner, University of Melbourne

Listen: Windows Media

MOTTRAM: The index combines seven measures of engagement, including
not only trade and investment, but also education, tourism and
research and development as well as humanitarian assistance and

It gives a snapshot across the nature of Australia's relationship to
Asia. Compiled by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the Melbourne Institute and
Asialink at the University of Melbourne, it confirms that Asia as a
whole, and particularly Japan, China and the ASEAN bloc have become a
virtual backbone for the Australian economy. South Korean and India
and emerging on the Australian radar too. Japan though remains a very
important partner in trade terms. But the real boom, unsurprisingly
has been with China.

Trade minister Simon Crean.

CREAN: Certainly the engagement with China and the growth of our
engagement with China has by far been the largest. Our engagement with
the rest of the world 3-times over the period, with China 16 times,
with ASEAN five times.

MOTTRAM: The index finds, though, that the noise about China has
eclipsed the fact that the ASEAN block remains Australia's most
important engagement partner in the region, with two-way trade at 80
Billion dollars and a new free trade agreement lifting hopes for even

As well as trade, its a story of growing education ties .. with half a
million people travelling between Australia and Asia in 2007 for
education .. and Australia's discovery of Asia in the past 20 years as
a holiday destination.

But the engagement isn't without its shortcomings.

Simon Crean again.

CREAN: Interestingly its investment that we haven't done well at and
in my view this is the pointer as to where we've got to go in the

MOTTRAM: A future that is now seen through the lens of the global
financial crisis and spreading recession. Its hoped the index can help
shape some responses to that. But on the investment front, part of the
problem Mr Crean says is barriers to foreign investment in Asian

CREAN: These are the sorts of things that we've got to tackle through
regional trade agreements and through our bilateral arrangements.

MOTTRAM: But trade agreements won't fix the other big problem, in the
texture of the relationships, in lanugage capabilities, in a deep
understanding of Asian cultures.

History Professor Tony Milner from Melbourne University has written a
reflective essay for the index.

MILNER: We've got as I say in an essay in this a remarkably low number
of people in Australia with a real Asia knowledge Asian language and
so forth. I think we obviously need an elite if you can call it that
of Asia specialists in Australia to negotiate our way through this
region, to provide our foreign service and security service and
analysis and so forth but we also need a broadly educated community on
Asian problems. So I think one of the major, I hope, policy
implications is that we need a real attention to Asia education in

MOTTRAM: Professor Milner says that despite its diplomatic vigor in
the region, the Howard government neglected the education of the
Australian public on Asia and he says that needs to be corrected.
Simon Crean calls it the lost generation of engagement on the Asian
language front and says the Rudd government's already made
committments to begin to address it.

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