Dr Shiro Armstrong talks to us about why College engagement with policy-makers around our region is vital and how our expertise is helping shape strong strategic, economic and social policy to ensure the stability and prosperity of our region in a time of global uncertainty and disruption.
Dr Shiro Armstrong is Director of the Australia-Japan Research Centre and Director of the Asian Bureau of Economic Research at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University. He is Editor of the East Asia Forum and East Asia Forum Quarterly. He shares with us his insights into a lifetime passion for Asian studies and strategic matters impacting on our region.
Dr Armstrong has had a long association with our College, having studied at ANU, being the university of choice for anyone interested in the Asia-Pacific and in economics. Many of his former mentors and teachers are now his colleagues, and this long association gives him a unique insight into the vital role of the work of the College in promoting Australia’s understanding of Asia and its strategic and economic importance for Australia.
Dr Armstrong’s work sees him actively engaging both with international research partners in-country, and with government and policy-makers to ensure that the College’s research and expertise are utilised widely in order to influence public policy in Australia and the region.
He sees the Crawford School and the College as both having vital roles, but also ANU as an institution, as we look ahead to many upcoming strategic and policy challenges, at home and abroad.
Dr Armstrong says, “ANU must continue to position itself as the thought leader in Australia, as an institution that helps define the strategic and cultural direction of the country and its place in the world.”
Crawford academics lead on the debate on many of the important issues in the region and globally, and the East Asia Forum that the College runs is required reading for many policy-makers, academics and opinion makers across Asia.
“In the next 12-18 months, our region will be facing some key strategic and economic challenges — protecting and reforming the World Trade Organisation, locking in regional economic agreements and plurilateral agreements, and creating a better framework for thinking about the entanglement of economics and security. And Crawford has a vital role here
We need to continue our efforts to strengthen the reputation as the region's best public policy school in the world on the Asia Pacific region”, says Dr Armstrong.
Shiro took the time to answer a few questions for us about his work and his views on the achievements and objectives of the College.
Tell us about what you have been working on recently.
We have just completed the ASEAN Vision 2040 report with colleagues from around South East Asia. I was very fortunate to play a leadership role in the project, working with ERIA (the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia) for the Thai Government. The report helps think through economic strategies for ASEAN for the next 20 years.
We are also recently hosted the third major symposium between ANU and Japan's Research Institute for Economy, Trade and Industry on international economic policy issues. The first symposium focused on regional trade strategies, the second on Asia's response to the trade war and the third focused on the entanglement of economics and security.
What do you think are some of the key medium to long-term issues facing our region and how can Crawford, and your own work, contribute to resolving some of these?
Multilateralism and the global rules-based order are under threat as the United States retreats into protectionism and we all try to manage a rising China.
Crawford and our team in particular lead a lot of collaborative work in Asia and across the Pacific and the United States through conference series, major projects and roundtables that include policy-makers.
There's not been a time in the last half a century where collaborative work and joint thinking through of ideas has been more important. We're faced with major challenges that require global solutions. Socialising ideas, improving understanding and consensus-building in Asia is becoming more important as Asia's impact on the world economy grows. That was true before all the uncertainty we've started to experience in the past three years but is even more important now.
Where do you see how you can have the most effective influence?
It has proven incredibly effective to work from the ANU base where our reputation is so strong and gives us leverage and credibility, and to balance that with significant time working with partners in-country.
Our aim now is to extend that influence by doubling down on engagement with key colleagues in countries in our region to think through difficult issues and enhance economic policy cooperation.
Our work with government is also important. Working with governments and providing the evidence-base for improved public policy is core business for many of us.
We've recently created a couple of ‘track 1.5 processes’ — a mix of officials participating in a private and non-official capacity as opposed to track 1 where engagement between officials and track 2 between academics or non-officials — that have helped progress trade negotiations and work towards building a better financial safety net in the region.
Where did you go to school and do you have mentors or people who guided you, and inspired you on the path to your current specialty?
I am Canberra-born and raised with four years of primary school in Japan at a local school.
During my undergraduate studies, I took Peter Drysdale's course on the Japanese economy early on and have had him as a mentor since. I have been incredibly lucky to have many academics at Crawford who helped me through my PhD and who now have become my colleagues.
I’m passionate about economics and the tools to view and understand the world. And I’ve always had a personal interest in Japan and Asia that has become a professional interest given it’s the most dynamic part of the world. I’m lucky enough to have studied in Japan as part of the year abroad program at ANU and to do a year of my ANU PhD in Tokyo (as well as Beijing and Boston). I’ve had many stints out of Canberra but throughout my study and academic career I keep returning to ANU as it’s the best place in the world for studying and researching the Asian economy.
How do you like to manage the balance between personal and work life?
With difficulty! Lots of travel and a huge workload with a five and six-year-old is not easy. They join me once a year on an extended trip to Japan but apart from that it’s mostly very short trips to minimise my time away from them. The nature of the research means I need to be spending time on the ground in the region. Fortunately my partner is very understanding and the kids are used to it for now — and lucky we have video conferencing!
With Peter Drysdale we run the East Asia Forum and administer the Asian Bureau of Economic Research with a dozen of the brightest students at ANU, mostly from CAP. The same model is used for administering the Australia-Japan Research Centre and the other various grants, including the running of major conferences like the Japan Update. We see it as very much part of their training and development, not just a job. The talent among the students in CAP is incredible and it does make the day-to-day really fun.
Dr Shiro Armstrong is a Research Associate at the Center on Japanese Economy and Business at Columbia University; Research Scholar at the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI); and Visiting Associate Professor at Keio University. He is the Australian member of the Research Institutes Network for the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA). He has published four edited books, a dozen peer reviewed journal articles and has contributed articles to Foreign Affairs, the Nikkei Newspaper (in Japanese), the South China Morning Post and regularly in the Australian Financial Review.