Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 14:36 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 14:36 | SYDNEY

Ken Henry crafts his White Paper (II)


Graeme Dobell

9 August 2012 17:33

Part 1 of this article here.

The Asian Century White Paper has to be broad enough to touch the conceptual edges of the Defence White Paper that will come out in the middle of next year. Notice the key word here is 'touch' rather than 'enmesh' or 'integrate'.

The two White Papers will nod rather than embrace. The Defence White Paper will be marked by linguistic obeisance rather than conceptual obedience to the Asian Century master plan. Economists and strategists speak different languages and often seem to see different worlds. Henry's take on the strategic issues posed by China has an economist's insouciance, drawing on the faith that money speaks all languages:

A lot of people have observed that Asia’s growth means that, for the first time, Australia is facing a future in which our largest trading partner is not a partner in a close alliance friendship, or even the partner of a close ally. I don’t know that that matters much, but it’s a development that is worth thinking about.

Hear that, all you strategists at Russell Hill HQ obsessing about China? think about it, by all means, but all that military/alliance stuff doesn't matter that much. Relax, Russell.

Asian Century White Paper supremo Ken Henry seeks to subsume the strategists by making their concerns only one of the three domains he will range over: economic, social-cultural and political-security. By seeking to look out 'just' to 2025, Henry avoids the crystal ball malfunctions inherent in the Defence attempt next year to reach out beyond 2030 towards 2050.

Peering to the second half of the century, Defence simplifies things by seeing only three great strategic powers: the US, China and India. The Defence demotion of Japan to middle power status is a fascinating call. Interesting to see if that view of Japan's future gets a tick from the eminent economist, Dr K Henry.

Note also that Defence has not surrendered completely to the Asian Century; the Asia Pacific is still popular because that construct makes the US role explicit. The big China speech the Defence Minister gave in June was entitled, 'Australia and China – Partners in the Asia Pacific Century'. Mark that title as a bit of cheekiness from Russell directed up Kings Avenue towards the Prime Minister's Department.

The vision of the Asian Century Ken Henry is brewing in PM&C is going to have to convince diverse audiences. And some of the sceptics, residing close to hand, will get a chance at their own White Paper next year.

Photo by Flickr user c. a. muller.