Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 17:22 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 17:22 | SYDNEY

If 'Asia' exists, is Australia part of it?


Malcolm Cook

4 April 2012 10:34

This sentence in Michael Wesley's recent contribution to the Australia in the Asian Century discussion prodded my mind: 'Far from becoming defunct, "Asia" is becoming ever more relevant as a source of self-evaluation for the societies occupying that continent'.

If Michael is right about 'Asia' (and I hope he is, as I have written on this theme myself), then Australia's long-standing fears about being peripheralised may grow. Australia is not part of the Asia that is a source of self-evaluation for those non-Western countries and societies. China clearly does not see Australia as part of their Asia, nor does India or Asian countries to India's west.

On this, a majority of Australians agree, as 68% of respondents to the 2010 Lowy Institute poll did not see Australia as part of 'that continent' either. It was a dead heat between those that identified Australia as part of Asia, part of the Pacific, and part of no region at all despite years of elite aspirational reference to Asia as 'our region'. Sam Roggeveen's insightful blog entry on the Bali factor may help explain why some Australians do not see Asia as part of 'our region.'

Australia's place in maritime-based Asia Pacific and the much broader Indo-Pacific is much more secure. As Michael notes, 'Asia' is still riven by ancient suspicions that are being exacerbated by China's and India's growing power and influence. It is exactly this connection that, in strategic terms, is reinforcing the idea of the Asia Pacific as a region and providing the justification for seeing the Indo-Pacific as a coherent, if vast, region, with the US as the key player in both. The deepening of the ANZUS alliance and Australia's growing security relations with Japan, South Korea and India are all signs of this.

One of the challenges the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper may want to take up is this divergence of region and what it means for Australia in the future.

Photo by Flickr user WanderingtheWorld.