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White paper a 'one-way bet'

The Asian Century white paper is an “opportunity missed” that paints a narrow economic picture of the region and Australia’s place in it, according to one of Australia’s leading international relations experts.
14 January 2013
Professor Michael Wesley.

The Asian Century white paper is an “opportunity missed” that paints a narrow economic picture of the region and Australia’s place in it, according to one of Australia’s leading international relations experts.

Professor Michael Wesley of the National Security College at ANU said that by focusing on economic issues, the white paper failed to recognise the full range of issues that will impact Australia’s engagement with the region in the coming decades.

“I was a bit underwhelmed by the white paper,” he said.

“It was a very narrowly economic document and it didn’t seem to acknowledge that there are other factors that relate to how Australia fits into the Asian Century that will affect the economics of what’s happening. I think it was an opportunity missed.

“It tended to reduce the rise of Asia to economic growth rates and the coming Asian Middle Class. The fact is, you can’t have the significant rise in population of the middle class without significant political change, significant strategic change, and the challenges that come with that.”

Speaking to the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific as part of a series of interviews looking at reactions to the white paper, Professor Wesley said that the by concentrating on economics, Australia was gambling on its Asian future.

“It seemed to me that the white paper saw the Asian Century as all upside for Australia. To me, that represents a very big one-way bet,” he said.

“If we only look at in such starkly one-dimensional terms, we’ll miss a lot of the richness of the broader picture that’s happening.”

He added that while many of the aspirations of the white paper were commendable, there was little detail given about how they might be achieved – particularly in its focus on teaching Asian languages.

“There are a lot of aspirations in that white paper. Many of them are laudable, but there’s been little about how we’re actually going to get there and, as many people have pointed out, very few resources have been committed.

“The level of language teaching that the white paper aspires to is a very, very difficult target to hit. The teaching infrastructure needed is simply not there to be able to deliver that provision of language training and, if it was, it would cost literally billions of dollars.”

An interview with Michael Wesley can be found on ANUchannel.

Wesley is Professor of National Security at the National Security College (NSC). In his new role with the NSC he will lead the NSC’s Academic, Outreach and Research Program, and contribute to a number of courses at the Crawford School of Public Policy.

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