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A lost opportunity on Asia

By Julie Bishop - posted Thursday, 1 November 2012


Economic growth in Asia will continue to play an important role in Australia's future prosperity in terms of trade but also in the strategic military balances of our region.

Rising economic power is invariably accompanied by rising military power and is resulting in increased tensions in the East China Sea and South China Sea, for example.

Growing economic and military might in Asia comes at a time of economic downturns in Europe and the United States.

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Given the significance of these issues for our country, many people had high expectations for the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, hoping it would provide an in-depth analysis of the opportunities and the challenges likely to arise in the region, with new insights and thinking on how Australia could respond.

The White Paper released by the Prime Minister last Sunday does contain a series of laudable goals.

These include the aim of improving the international rankings of our universities, lifting educational standards in our schools and increasing the numbers of Australian students studying an Asian second language.

There is also an aspiration to establish more embassies to enhance our diplomatic presence across Asia.

These are worthy aspirations.

There is no doubt that the authors of the White Paper have gathered a significant amount of data and forecasts on long-term economic trends which makes it a useful reference.

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However the White Paper was a disappointment because there is a yawning chasm between the espoused aspirations and the policy and funding framework necessary to achieve them.

There was no funding commitment for any new initiatives, and the Government's recent mid-year Budget update slashed spending on education, research and innovation.

Asian language programs have been cut.

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About the Author

Julie Bishop is the Federal Member for Curtin, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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