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The case for complacency about Australia’s engagement with Asia

By Benjamin Herscovitch - posted Tuesday, 12 February 2013

In today’s divisive political climate, each side of parliament seems to have an uncontrollable impulse to contradict the other. That the opposing party supports a policy has become reason enough to oppose it, and vice versa.

There is, however, one particularly glaring exception to this prevailing partisanship.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott both want Australia to ‘engage’ more effectively with Asia.


Writing in On Line Opinion on Friday, Neil Thomas and Thomas Williams make the case for putting some meat on the bones of this commitment to engage with Asia. They argue that ‘Asia engagement ... just needs to finally be done.’

Although calls to do more to seize Asian Century opportunities might look intuitively plausible, they ignore a defining feature of modern Australia: Our Asian embrace is already extensive and only getting deeper.

From the resources sector to tourism and higher education, Australia is tied to Asia’s surging economies.

Seven of the top 10 destinations for Australian exports are Asian countries, and almost 55 per cent of Australia’s total exports go to China, Japan, South Korea and India alone.

The dependence of Australian businesses on Asian economies is set to grow.

New markets for Australian goods and services are being opened up across Asia: We recently concluded a free trade agreement (FTA) with Malaysia and are currently negotiating FTAs with China, Japan, South Korea, India and Indonesia.


Our two largest service exports—education and tourism—exemplify the extent of Australia’s economic engagement with Asia.

Twelve of the top 15 countries of origin of student visa holders in Australia are from Asia, while 7 of the top 10 markets for Australian tourism are in the region.

Not only do hundreds of thousands of Australian jobs now depend on Asian consumers but Australia’s education and tourism exports bring millions of Asians to Australia each year.

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About the Author

Dr Benjamin Herscovitch is a Beijing-based research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies and previously worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Follow him on Twitter @B_Herscovitch.

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All articles by Benjamin Herscovitch

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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