ACYD Opinion

Opinion: Australia-China Creative Industries - by 2013 Delegates

Opinion: Australia-China Creative Industries - by 2013 Delegates

After an intensive week of seminars, speeches and sessions on issues ranging from security and the environment to global trade and politics, the final topic for discussion at the 2013 Australia-China Youth Dialogue (ACYD) was that of Australia-China creative industries. Speakers included Leslie Always, Greame Lewsey, Paul Lacy, and Michell Guo.

《亚洲梦非梦,而是现实》— ACYD出版负责人Neil Thomas

《亚洲梦非梦,而是现实》— ACYD出版负责人Neil Thomas

在最近的一篇文章里,Natalie Karam呼吁陆克文从亚洲梦中清醒过来。对于工党和自由党相继提出的亚洲学习支持计划,她质疑亚洲学习在澳洲学生中是否真有如此大的市场? Karam女士提到教育界需要进行调整以迎接亚洲世纪的到来。但从字里行间可以看出她本人对于亚洲的陈见。同时她也只字未提亚洲语言。

Aussie jingoism jangles in the Chinese century by Henry Makeham and Gregory Ainsworth

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Anxieties about investment in Australia by Chinese state-owned enterprises continue to surface, often conflated with worries about an overarching (if nebulous) geostrategic strategy led from Beijing. “It’s the Communist People’s Republic of China, 100 per cent Communist-owned, buying up sections of the country and minerals in the ground which they will then sell to the Communist People’s Republic of China” claimed Senator Barnaby Joyce.

Even Kevin Rudd pandered to economic protectionism against Chinese SOE inbound investment in the lead-up to the election. “I'm not quite as free market as Tony on this stuff,” the prime minister said.

When thinking about Chinese SOE investment, the default position has often been to retreat from the unknown, and followed up with economic jingoism. The Australian foreign investment debate has demonstrated woefully unsophisticated discourse about the pros and cons of Chinese SOE investment.

In actual fact, the motivations of Chinese SOE managers are far from simple. Chinese SOE-outbound investment to Australia, and OECD economies more generally, faces an inherent tension: the execution of state industrial and political objectives versus self-interested profit maximisation.

What has been overlooked is that when this tension meets Australia’s ambivalence towards Chinese SOE investment, a favourable risk management environment is created. That is, the heightened political and media scrutiny Chinese SOEs face in Australia mitigates the danger that an SOE would brazenly sacrifice commercial self-interest in favour of industrial and/or political interests.

As part of the Chinese government’s concerted effort to improve its comprehensive national power – whereby an SOE is viewed as either a de facto or de jure extension of the state – national prestige and image throughout OECD economies increasingly matters to Beijing. As a result, the consequences of an SOE being perceived as acting for motives other than commercial interest are becoming increasingly dire, and not worth the risk.

So it is important for Australia to deal effectively with the challenge of economic jingoism. The alternative is to risk losing investment capital and enhanced access to Chinese markets.

Tempering the hysteria that occasionally surrounds inbound Chinese SOE investment will reduce the chances of Chinese geopolitical and economic backlash. Granted, investment and national security safeguards must never be ignored when dealing with inbound Chinese SOE investment. However, economic nationalism and protectionism must not trump balanced analysis.

The Brookings Institute’s Erica Downs has carried out extensive research on the behaviour of Chinese SOE outbound investment in pursuit of China’s energy security objectives. She concludes that the extent to which China’s cross-border energy acquisitions are the product of coordination between Chinese firms and the Chinese government is limited.

Outside observers have explicitly or implicitly assumed that China Development Bank’s deals, including a range of energy backed loans, are the work of China, Inc: China’s government, state-owned banks and SOEs operating as an aligned enterprise in a global pursuit of energy. The main finding of Downs’ study was that the China Development Bank's energy backed loans are the result of coordination between government and business, but the motive frequently attributed to these transactions – to secure oil and natural gas supplies for Chinese consumers – is just one of the multiple commercial and national interests that underpinned the transactions.

Downs’ research found no support for the notion that Chinese SOEs were “mere puppets of the state executing directives of their political masters”. Further, Downs’ findings suggest that where private and state interests have conflicted, private interests have trumped state industrial and political goals. This conclusion is reinforced by the Asia Society’s research that stated that “China’s [SOEs]… typically put self-interest and profitability above all else”.

The inflow of select Chinese capital into OECD markets like Australia presents a profusion of opportunities. But if Chinese SOEs perceive that Australia is thumbing its nose at their investment, Chinese capital will simply re-direct its investment flow to other resource-rich competitor nations. Perception matters. Australian economic jingoism must not trump reasoned analysis this Asian (read: Chinese) century.

Henry F Makeham is founder and director of the Australia-China Youth Dialogue (ACYD). Gregory Ainsworth is manager of Partnership Development for the ACYD and runs an early-stage healthcare technology company in Boston.

This article first appeared in the Business Spectator on the 12th of September 2013. You can find the original article here:

ACYD Publications Manager, Neil Thomas: 'It's not the Asian dream, it's the reality'

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IN a recent article ‘Rude awakening from Asia study dream’, Natalie Karam questioned whether there was sufficient demand from Australian students for the Asia study abroad opportunities offered by the ALP’s Asiabound scheme and the Coalition’s broader New Colombo Plan.

Ms Karam raises salient points that need to be addressed for the Australian educational sector to thrive in the Asian Century. But her factual premise is not completely sound, her arguments accept stereotyped views of Asia as unchangeable, and she does not mention Asian languages.

Firstly, there in fact does seem to be demand for Asia study. Bernard Lane reported in The Australian that the first round of Asiabound grant applications was heavily oversubscribed, and that a full allocation of $10.6m has been made to 52 institutions to provide opportunities for 3700 Australian students to participate in semester, short-term, and language study programs in Asia.

Despite the quoted concerns of an industry professional that student interest will not match allocations, as universities and not individuals make Asiabound applications, it is unlikely the money will not go towards inducing student participation in new Asia study programs. This is because universities must return any unspent funding. Furthermore, Asiabound allocates $3m to fund a national campaign promoting the benefits of Asia study to students and parents.

We should not underestimate the power of political leadership and financial incentive to impact the attitudes and choices of the Australian population.

The article also ignores booming Australia-Asia youth engagement. The Australia-China Youth Association Group alone boasts over 5000 members across chapters in 20 Australian universities, with high-level support from the ANU and DFAT. The Australia-China Youth Dialogue, Australia-India Youth Dialogue, Australia-Korea Youth Dialogue, and Australia-Indonesia Youth Association have all been founded and grown rapidly over the last few years.

Secondly, I agree with Ms Karam in the sense that student demand could indeed be higher. She insightfully identifies many reasons why Australian students “haven't quite embraced the fact that our future is inside of Asia”, but she accepts cultural stereotypes as immutable barriers and does not offer solutions.

Essentially, “Asia does not seem new, exciting or different to us…the casual familiarity we have with the region is a turn-off.” I concur with Ms Karam that it is ignorant to assume that “eating pad thai” and “lazing by the beach” mean you have ‘experienced Asia’.

But Australians should not just accept Michael Wesley’s insight that we are “insular internationalists”, well travelled but ignorant of the places we go. It seems the problem is that Australians do not know enough about Asia to realise how diverse and interesting it really is, and that it boasts texture far richer than its tacky tourist hotspots.

Education is the key. This is precisely why we need political support and promotional funding for programs like Asiabound and the New Colombo Plan, to show Australian students that Asia is in fact a dynamic and liveable region, not just a place to swig Bintangs and splurge on room service.

The ‘Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia’ national curriculum priority is also a positive step towards expanding the cultural and educational horizons of future generations.

Thirdly, a topic absent from Ms Karam’s article is what I believe to be a major reason why student demand for Asia study has not been as high as it should be; Asian languages.

Judging from the article and her LinkedIn page, it seems Ms Karam does not speak an Asian language. From my own experience, this can be a game changer. People naturally prefer to interact in their first language, especially in their own country. Ms Karam’s lament that living in Asia is disappointing compared to holidaying there due to the lack of “student life” is misguided; it exists everywhere but is primarily conducted in the local language.

The article also depicts Asian students as distant and perplexing: “Our relative ‘otherness’ was intriguing to one another.” But the language of cultural inscrutability masks the reality of fundamental human commonalities behind different beliefs and customs. The key is being able to communicate them.

I am not saying that studying in Asia without an Asian language is worthless, it is an invaluable experience that I would recommend to any Australian, but if you met an Asian student in Australia who could not speak English I doubt you would invite him to the pub to have a drink and watch the footy. Language and cultural participation are intertwined when Australians go to Asia too.

I study Chinese (with law and politics), and whilst I am not eloquently fluent, being able to hold my own at the dinner table and read the Chinese news has led to meaningful friendships, professional employment, and an increasing ability to partake in Chinese society.

So, whilst Asiabound and the New Colombo Plan are laudable policy, a better way to promote tertiary study in and of Asia would be to implement the 2012 Australia in the Asian Century White Paper recommendation to teach Australians an Asian language throughout primary and secondary school. That would mean they are interested and equipped for immersing themselves in an Asian society when they start university. Learning a second language at university is possible, but the younger you are the better.

However, prospects are uncertain. In 2010, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations released a report showing Asian language schooling in free-fall, with for instance only five per cent of Australian schools teaching Chinese. Neither the ALP nor Coalition has committed funding to realising the White Paper’s aspirational goal, though the Coalition have announced a target of 40 per cent of school graduates speaking a foreign language within a decade.

Australia should follow the example of the Victorian state government, the leader in realising the possibility of a bilingual Australia through its ‘Vision for Languages Education’ policy and Hamer Scholarship program.

Speaking the languages and understanding the cultures of Asia would enrich the social life of the nation, augment strategic involvement in the region, and boost business within the interaction-based non-primary sectors the Australian economy rapidly needs to diversify into. Monolingualism is not a national strength.

Ultimately, to argue that current lack of huge demand justifies winding back educational engagement with Asia is prematurely defeatist.

Asia is not a dream we need to awake from. It is a reality we need to act upon.

This article first appeared in The Australian on the 30th of August 2013:

ACYD Publications Manager, Neil Thomas: 'Asian White Paper or white elephant'


Kevin Rudd's speech to the Lowy Institute yesterday underscored the value of deepening Australia's engagement with Asia. It's a message the next Australian government - whether Coalition or ALP - needs to take seriously, argues Neil Thomas. At the Lowy Institute in Sydney yesterday Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered the first significantspeech of the election campaign about Australia's international relations.

Most coverage of the speech centred on controversial plans to move naval assets from Sydney to Brisbane and possible humanitarian intervention in Syria.

Much less reported, though possibly of more long-term significance, was Rudd's vision of Australia as an activist regional and global middle power. He emphasised that "we are now living in the Asian century, this is no longer a prospect, this is a reality".

There is now bipartisan acknowledgment that Australia is increasingly economically, diplomatically, and strategically reliant on Asia, and China in particular.

But according to Rudd, shifting Chinese growth patterns mean "Australia's prosperity is simply no longer assured on the back of the China mining boom alone...To ensure future prosperity we must diversify our economy”, he said, by exporting agriculture and professional services to rapidly-growing Asian consumer populations.

However, for Australia to negotiate fierce global competition and position itself successfully in Asia will "require investment, education, training, and systemic not episodic engagement by governments".

To this end, Rudd endorsed the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper as "the most comprehensive review of Australia's regional engagement strategy for 20 years", asserting that to become prosperous Australia must become "comprehensively Asia-literate".

Rudd's speech yesterday was the first significant mention of Asia-literacy or the White Paper during this election campaign.

When then-PM Julia Gillard unveiled the White Paper in October 2012, she hailed it as a flagship "road map for national success".

It boldly recommended that Australian schoolchildren be offered continuous education in one of four priority Asian languages – Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese, and Indonesian – and proposed aspirational targets for a third of business directors and senior public servants to possess "deep experience in and knowledge of Asia" by 2025.

Rudd has benefited from extensive Chinese language and Asian studies education and as a backbencherendorsed it as "a wake-up call for all Australians".

But the ALP has yet to place significant political capital or funding behind actually implementing the White Paper's proposal to reverse Australian mono-lingualism and revolutionise Asian language education.

Rudd's speech was stirring stuff, but it contained too much rhetoric and not enough concrete proposals.

Given such issues scarcely register in marginal-electorate calculations, perhaps it was a final ambassadorial flourish before being voted out of office?

The fate of the White Paper under a Coalition government is uncertain.

Encouragingly, the Coalition has declared a target to have 40 per cent of school graduates speaking a foreign language within a decade.

But Tony Abbott’s reaction to the White Paper's call for a more Asia-literate nation echoed John Howard'srefusal to engage with Australian cultural identity beyond the Anglosphere when he commented that "the best guarantee of Australian participation in the Asian century is a strong economy".

Julie Bishop has also echoed such sentiment during this election campaign, confirming the Coalition would pursue a narrow vision of "economic diplomacy" focused upon business and trade.

But is Asia-literacy even important for Australia's national future?

Pundits argue that Australia is doing well and does not need to be Asia-literate (or anywhere-literate) because "money talks in any language".

But such views exemplify the present complacency of an Australia that has not experienced recession for two decades, which has not prepared itself well for the future and the necessary structural adjustment to our educational institutions and socio-economic systems in order to thrive in the Asian Century.

Understanding the cultures and speaking the languages of Asia is key to ensuring Australia's long-term economic success, as business would flourish with amplified people-to-people engagement, intergovernmental trust, and strategic involvement in the region.

This is especially so within the dynamic non-primary sectors Australia needs to develop, where success is based far more upon networks and interactions than mineral deposits.

To be fair, firm political commitments have been made to Asia-literacy at the tertiary level.

The ALP's Asiabound scheme will provide $10.6m for 3700 Australians to study in Asia.

The Coalition's New Colombo Plan goes further by supporting mass tertiary programs and internship placements, proposing to make Asia study "the norm".

But presence alone does not guarantee meaningful engagement, and most participants will still learn and live in English.

A better way to promote tertiary study in and of Asia would be to teach Australians an Asian language throughout primary and secondary school, so that they are interested and equipped for immersing themselves in an Asian society when they start university.

But, for instance, only five per cent of Australian schools currently teach Chinese.

Implementing the visionary language education recommendations of the White Paper, accompanied by the new national curriculum, reversal of tertiary funding cuts, expanded language-teaching, skilled migration, and support for cross-cultural youth organisations, would unlock myriad national, social, and frankly human benefits that spring from fluency in other languages and cultures.

Australian engagement with Asia would be welcomed and reciprocated by the polities and publics of countries where attitudes towards Australia tend to be deservedly coloured by indifference at its perceived irrelevance or perhaps of cultural xenophobia (that focused animosity towards asylum seekers does not help to quell).

So hopefully the party that takes office on September 7 will defy the initial predictions of many commentators: that the will and funding to realise the White Paper's vision for an Asia-literate Australian population will not materialise.

Australia has a unique opportunity to become a geographically close, economically important, and culturally competent Western country in Asia. This promise could be squandered by a failure to invest in Asia-literate human capital.

This article was first published on the 28th of August 2013 in 'The Drum':

ACYD Alumni Huw Polhner article in Australia-China Connections: 'Internships will help build Asia skills'


If Australia is serious about its position in the Asian century, more opportunities for Asian-based internships need to be available for Australian students and graduates, writes Asialink’s Huw Pohlner.

Australia needs urgent, coordinated action to overcome our asymmetric engagement with Asia and improve our Asia capabilities and intercultural intelligence. This will require substantial new resources, including providing opportunities and incentives to gain Asian experience.

Our relationship with China provides an example of the asymmetries in Australia’s Asia engagement. Australia’s resources trade with China has grown exponentially for over two decades, and Chinese international students now far outnumber any other foreign national group in Australian schools and universities. But the number of Australian students from non-Chinese backgrounds who study Chinese at year 12 languishes at only 300 or so in any given year.

Only 6 percent of Australian year 12 students study any Asian language, a figure that has remained static for over a decade. And university exchange student and intern flows out of Australia are limited and continue to favour experience in developed Western economies.

Internships and other forms of work experience in Asia will be fundamental in addressing this imbalance, building greater understanding and connections with Asia and developing an Asia-capable Australian workforce. Business, governments and educational institutions must work together to build demand for – and increase the supply of – targeted internship opportunities for Australians across the Asian region.

Asialink’s 2012 report, Developing an Asia Capable Workforce, found that Australian businesses see capability issues as among the greatest impediments to planned expansion into Asia. Less than half of 380 businesses surveyed had any board members or senior executives with Asian experience or language ability.

Peer-reviewed research and global business experience highlight the benefits of spending time overseas to global-mindedness and, in this context, Asia capability. The Asia Capable Workforce report listed ‘extensive experience operating in Asia’ as a key component of Asia capability. One of the most effective and lasting ways people can gain such experience is by working and/or studying in Asia, including through exchanges and internships.

But too few Australians are gaining such experience in Asia. International study experiences and internship opportunities for Australians remain weighted in favour of advanced English-speaking economies.

Internships contribute to the development of not just knowledge, but also practical skills and professional networks. They are accessible to workers and students alike, including through secondments arranged by Australian employers. Internships can also be undertaken before, during or after a period of educational exchange to an Asian country. Aside from being relatively short in duration and therefore broadly accessible, internships have the major added benefit of increasing employability.

Empirical studies support anecdotal evidence that university graduates with internship experience are perceived to be better prepared to enter the workforce and more marketable to employers. A 2013 survey of final-year undergraduates in the United Kingdom revealed that students with internship experience were three times more likely to get job offers before graduating than their peers without such experience.

But internships must be designed and implemented appropriately. Well-designed internships can contribute to Asia capability if three core internship components (experience, networks and knowledge) are explicitly incorporated into an Asia-focused program.

Australians need access to internships that are deliberately designed to build their Asia capabilities. For this to happen, business, government and the education sector will need to work together, and efforts to improve access to opportunities must be matched by efforts to increase demand.

Businesses should establish new or expand existing internal programs – and partnerships with universities and internship providers – to open up their offices in Australia and across the region to interns. They must continue to communicate to government and the education sector the importance they place on Asia capability and the relevance of practical work experience.

Governments should further implement the recommendations relating to Asia-relevant capabilities made in the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper. State and federal governments should support further academic and industry research to assess the impact of internship programs on Asia capability and employability.

Universities should expand student mobility programs in Asia to allow more students to include time there as a credited component of their degree program. Student exchanges should be supplemented with practical professional internship opportunities where possible. The relevance and importance of practical experience in an Asia-focused organisation to students’ future careers should be promoted, moving away from an Anglo- and Eurocentric view of overseas opportunities.

Above all, internships must be designed and implemented according to best practice in program management and developing Asia capability. High-quality internships will generate further demand, especially if supported by the business sector through clear indications that Asian experience is highly valued.

This article first appeared in Australia-China Connections:

What do new Party rules mean for rule of law?


Late last month, just days before Xi Jinping departed for his first state visit to the Caribbean and the Americas, a full-page editorial appeared in Investor Journal dismissing the Chinese leader’s reformist credentials. Zhao Li, the journal’s editor-in-chief, boldly compared Weibo debates on “constitutionalism” to the Democracy Wall movement of 1979 and the Beijing student protests of 1989. For Zhao, the Party’s conservative response revealed Xi’s true colours: “he is not someone bringing a fresh approach, even less is he ‘cool.’” According to Zhao, Xi lacks the “wisdom and courage” to initiate real political and legal reform.

China’s constitution has attracted unprecedented interest in recent months. The often-ignored document has become a symbol of political reform and rule of law, particularly for liberals who see in it the promise of limited state power. Last month, when state-owned newspapers decried constitutional governance as “bourgeois” and incompatible with Chinese socialism, “constitutionalism” was trending on Weibo with nearly 6 million search results.

While Zhao doubts Xi’s commitment to reform, Xi’s speech last December marking the constitution’s thirtieth anniversary was undoubtedly a trigger for these debates. The speech capped a year in which the Party was rocked by the fall of Bo Xilai, a one-time rival infamous for, among other things, his extra-legal law enforcement campaign in the city-province of Chongqing. Five days after condemning official corruption in his “China Dream” speech, Xi delivered a full-throated defence of the constitution and rule of law.

Every social group and institution in China, Xi declared, “must take the constitution as the fundamental standard of their activities,” protect its integrity, and guarantee its implementation. “No group or individual,” he continued, “may have special privileges exceeding the constitution or the law”.

On Xi’s agenda: “Implement[ing] the fundamental strategy of administering the country in accordance with the law; [and] hasten[ing] the establishment of a socialist rule of law country,” including an “impartial judiciary.”

Moreover, while “maintaining the leadership of the Party” is paramount, Xi declared that “the Party must itself operate within the confines of the constitution and the law.”

In the months since this address, Xi has not been idle. In the same week that Zhao published his editorial, the Central Committee released new internal Party rules that – with the exception of a 1991 “interim” document – were said to be the first since 1921. While the new rules are primarily concerned with procedures for drafting and amending Party regulations, they also codify Xi’s campaign for more frugal officialdom and governance by rule of law. There is also a commitment to the “principle” of transparency: “not publicising” Party rules “should be the exception.”

While ostensibly clarifying Party rules and procedures, the main goal, say some analysts, is to strengthen central control over the Party’s various organs and regional bodies. Moreover, the new document highlights the fact that the Party does indeed operate under different rules to the rest of the population. All in all, whether Xi is willing or able to enact broader reforms, and enforce existing laws, remains an open question.

Joel Wing-Lun is Governance and Law Coordinator for the Australia-China Youth Dialogue

“Australia in the Asian Century”: Breaking the Repeater Circuit


“We have not been here before”. This was the phrase Julia Gillard deployed to announce the launch of the “Australia in the Asia Century” White Paper project in 2011. The awkward truth for us all though is that we have been here before. Many, many times. The perennial rediscovery of Asia is as much a part of Australian culture as calling your mates on Saturday morning to work out what you did the night before. Australia has envisioned itself as preparing for a “new” Asian future almost every generation since before Federation, and yet despite a lot of gasbagging and grandstanding there has been precious little progress in our underlying attitudes towards ourselves as part of Asia.

Gillard’s hyperbole was ominously reminiscent of countless Australian voices past. The routinised rhetoric of our need to deal with an unprecedented Asia stretches beyond Rudd’s poltroon National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program, Keating’s inexplicably-cut National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools program, the State and Federal Governments’ hollow response to Ross Garnaut’s 1989 “Australia and the Northeast Asian Ascendancy” report, all the way back to popular writer Frank Clune’s 1939 exhortation of Australians to “wake up” to Asian markets and prominent newspaper editor T.W. Heney’s observation in 1919 that “every Australian businessman should carry a map of China in his head”.

Thus it seems that the Australian polity and broader society has always had some underlying awareness of Asia, its impact on Australian national life, and the opportunities for greater prosperity if Australia were more Asia-capable. The White Paper is just the latest cyclical repetition of the dramatisation of our immediate need to respond to Asia, but critical voices have already emerged pointing out the Paper’s lack of concrete initiatives and funding sources, and calling into question our national political commitment.

What then prevents us from committing for the long haul? Why does the hype around Australia’s unpreparedness for Asia always fizzle out? And why is it made to seem like we are encountering the “Asian Question” for the first time?

Is it because the Asia-capabilities debate forces us to face discomforting questions about our own Australian national identity? Are we yet to transcend the latent prejudices of our chequered past as a so-thought “culturally-superior” Western outpost resisting our geography amidst a perceived threatening tide of “colour”? Do we actually not have a collective historical knowledge of Australia-Asia engagement? Does post-colonial insecurity self-reinforce our staunch social predilection toward monolingualism and the framing of engagement with Asia in overwhelmingly economic (entity-to-entity) rather than closer socio-cultural (people-to-people) terms?

Perhaps it is less the “Asian Question” than the “Australian Question”. Economic complementarities have drawn us together, but we have broadly failed to achieve a greater Australia through this. We are not Asia-literate yet and still view ourselves and are viewed in turn as outsiders. We need to be Australia realists, get over ourselves, and realise the gaping disparity between our complacent actuality and our immense potentiality. For over a century Australians have let themselves and future generations down through myopic, blinkered, and timid attitudes devaluing cross-cultural knowledge and failing to put in the educational hard yards. From a young person’s perspective, this is why the evidently beneficial study of Asian languages and societies is still a cultural anomaly rather than an educational assumption, despite us seeing Asia reap untold boons from their acceptance of the value of second-language learning.

As young people who only realised the benefits of learning an Asian language in our twenties after living in Asia, from countless hours of eyeball-drying study and ear-grating practice we can safely say that whilst it is possible to master Asian languages, our late start means we are still playing catch-up. It would have been an unparalleled advantage and enabled us to have already done far more with our time overseas if we had studied the language from childhood. The limits of our language are the limits of our thought. Learning other languages makes one aware of otherwise invisible opportunities and allows for truer and more complete dialogue, enabling Australians to connect with and understand the many peoples of Asia in a manner beyond, and yet extremely beneficial toward, the narrow economically grounded framework of the White Paper.

Whilst the White Paper should be lauded for its intentions and recommendations, for the sake of generations to come and future national prosperity, we must ensure that it is the last policy document of its type.

Asia engagement does not need to be highly dramatised, it just needs to finally be done.

Neil Thomas is an Honours student in Chinese political economy at the University of Western Australia and a 2013 Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award holder. He was previously a Chinese Government Scholar at Zhejiang University and the Renmin University of China. He is National Publications Director of the Australia-China Youth Association (

Thomas Williams is an Asian Studies Honours student at the University of Western Australia and completed a 2011 Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award at Peking University in Beijing. He has previously studied on scholarship at Zhejiang University, Beijing Language & Culture University, and the Renmin University of China. He is National President (Australia) of the Australia-China Youth Association.

NB: This article was first-published in Online Opinion, 8 February 2013,