FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Gillard White Paper on Asia

by BINOY KAMPMARK

It has a familiar ring to it. Australia, that White Tribe of Asia, is now sounding desperate, hoping for recognition in a region it has struggled to comprehend since the days of British colonisation. If human beings are seeking to find the common thread of expression, that elemental language amongst Babel’s sea of tongues, then we can say that the White Paper on the Asian Century seeks to do so – in part.

This is, however, only the start. There are, altogether, 25 speculative objectives. Four “Asian” languages have been selected as priorities: Chinese, Indonesian, Hindi and Japanese. The report deems it fundamental that every child be given the chance to learn an Asian language throughout their education in a school system that “will be in the top five in the world”. Globally, Australia will be ranked in the top five countries for ease of doing business and our innovation system will be in the world’s top 10. Astrology is a superb thing in some ways, but dangerous in politics.

All of this goes to show that the Australian political establishment can’t quite work out where it stands. It curtsies and adores the American military machine, bedding it with compulsive lasciviousness. It also knows the world’s largest Muslim population lies to its poorly defended North, not that any half-bright hack in Jakarta would be interested in shedding blood on desolate Australian soil.

The problem in terms of how Australia sees its neighbours is rooted in a mythology of fears, a codebook of concerns that goes back to the infancy of the nation. To the north lie devils and merchants, terrors and opportunities. Even the term ‘Asia’ is odd and somewhat ridiculous – a huge, variable continent, the most populous on the planet, cobbled together under a term that has little meaning other than differently shaped eyes, cuisine and well lined pockets. It doesn’t even have a location other than to say “China” and “minerals”, which is what the standard mining mastodon will comprehend. We dig, they buy.

A glance at the document shows that a barely coherent undergraduate must have come up with the daft expressions. Ditto the press releases. The paper provided a “roadmap showing how Australia can be a winner in the Asian Century.” (Presumably, with that fabled horse race the Melbourne Cup nearing, a “winner” analogy is appropriate, begging the question what a “loser” might be.)

The term “Asian Century” is used time and time again, providing a fitful reminder how foolish it is to pick centuries before they have begun, let alone dubious labels to peg on to them. This does not bother Adrian Vickers of the University of Sydney’s Asia Studies Program. “The Asian Century is already well underway. Shouldn’t we have been planning for that quite a while ago?” (ABC Online, Oct 30).

In the 1980s, management books and recommendations were speaking of the immutable, unchallenged Japanese century to come, of management philosophies that would stand the test of time. How things do change. Slogans, however, tend to retain their banality.

The theme continues through the document – Australia is chasing the ball, scurrying after it, panting and heaving with enthusiasm. “With Asia set to become the world’s largest economic region before the end of this decade the Asian century offers our nation immense opportunities.” That “zone” will be largest in terms of production and consumption – so says the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swan.

Sadly, there is nothing remarkable about the White Paper, and the fuss surrounding it is wooden, and out of date before it starts. In the 1990s, the Keating government was interested in promoting languages from the Asia-Pacific region with an almost ferocious intensity. Australian schools became a well-decked smorgasbord of linguistic experimentation. Engagement under the Hawke-Keating stewardship was with “Asia” in anticipation of what would become an economic super-hub. This proved all too colourful for Australian school syllabi during the Howard years, where dull was always better.

The White Paper tends to dabble in a good deal of fantasy in ignoring the chronic problems associated with resources. Language programs are actually losing numbers. Universities in Australia are reaching for their secateurs, suggesting that they are unviable. We are actually entertaining the prospects of a less “Asia” literate society.

Structurally speaking, the report seems to have come out of a vacuum. Just as the White Paper was being released, a parliamentary sub-committee was scathing about Australia’s feeble presence in such areas as “Asia”, at least in the diplomatic sense. Chairman Nick Champion was fairly logical in his summation. “If you put more resources in, you’ll get more posts.” Australia’s foreign affairs minister Bob Carr claims that the shoestring budget for his department is more than adequate to fulfil the White Paper goals. Let the sleepwalking continue.

What then, is the real focus? At its core, the rationale is economic. Australia wants Chinese markets without Chinese influences; the proceeds without the consequences; the cash without the people. The Treasurer’s press release is instructive. “We have already seen Asia’s demand for raw materials create an extraordinary boom in minerals and energy investment, and Asia’s ongoing industrialisation and urbanisation will continue to drive robust demand for a wide range of mineral resources.” Essentially, Australia is “Asia’s” water carrier – and it loves it.

It wants to be part of Asia, but in a controlled, sanitised way. It wants to participate in a U.S. redeployment of its forces without agitating China, even as Washington’s “pivot” into the Asia-Pacific hopes to check the advance of Beijing. With an increased U.S. presence in Darwin, Canberra is hoping for the best of all worlds. In the end, it will get neither.

In the final analysis, this puffed self-important, childish document differs very little from previous formulae. To be Asian, or not to be? The Antipodean Hamlet keeps asking the question, and remains, as ever, confused.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail