Saturday 24 Oct 2020 | 01:06 | SYDNEY
Saturday 24 Oct 2020 | 01:06 | SYDNEY

Saying 'no' to the Nike doctrine


Sam Roggeveen


29 September 2011 17:07

Prime Minister Gillard has announced an Asia White Paper, but Greg Sheridan and Crikey, in its daily editorial, are impatient. The PM doesn't need a White Paper to tell her that there are some obvious shortcomings in our approach to Asia, says Sheridan:

At school and university level, critical Asian languages such as Indonesian are in a death spiral. The government has known about this debilitating trend since before it was elected. It has done nothing. Across Asia, we are hampered by the smallest diplomatic service, per capita, in the developed world. The government has known about this since before it was elected.

Quite right, but let's put the most generous light on this. It's hard for governments to change course, even when the arguments for change are strong and the defence of the status quo is weak or non-existent (I'm not aware that anyone is defending, on an intellectual or policy level, the decline of Asian literacy in Australia or the shrinking of our diplomatic service; these are purely budgetary decisions). So maybe the government just needs some cover to reverse course on these issues, and the White Paper will provide it. Maybe.

Still, it strikes me as a bit unimaginative to argue that, because those particular problems are obvious, the entire White Paper process is unnecessary. But Crikey agrees with Sheridan that the problems with our approach to Asia are well known and the government should just get on with it. Crikey provides a mock list of key White Paper findings to emphasise how pointless this whole exercise is; here's the second one:

  • Australia will be tested by the growing tensions between China and the US, and will need to balance our critical economic relationship with China with our critical strategic and defence relationship with the US.

If that's all the White Paper winds up saying, then yeah, it will have been a waste of time and money. But although Crikey implies that this sort of finding is obvious and we should 'just do it', what is it Crikey wants government to do, exactly? Do Crikey's editorial writers think there is a self-evident and uncontroversial way to 'balance' our relations between China and the US? If so, they haven't been paying attention.

The same goes for Crikey's last mock recommendation: 'Australia should apply greater resources to participate in regional forums and cultivate deeper co-operation with our Asian partners.' But which regional forums? Again, there's a lively debate around such questions of which Crikey seems unaware.

On both these debates and many others, it would actually be useful to read the conclusions White Paper supremo Ken Henry comes to. If he dodges such specifics in favour of Crikey-style homilies, then we'll have reason to mock.

Photo by Flickr user wZa HK