What do Hong Kong, West Berlin and China’s Shenzen region have in common? They have all prospered as special economic zones alongside regions dominated by government.
The federal Opposition’s leaked proposal to spur development in Australia’s sparsely populated north met with peremptory dismissal last week. But special economic zones are neither a new nor untried idea.
The spectacular transformations of Hong Kong and West Berlin are renowned testament to the power of free trade and market prices. China’s spectacular economic growth rests on creative economic zoning too. Inspired by Hong Kong’s rapid efflorescence, then-leader Deng Xiaoping designated special economic zones in Shenzen in 1980.
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Australia has an international reputation for hosting world-class sporting events. We have held exceptional Olympic and Commonwealth Games, World Chamionships and World Cups.
The organisation has been superb and the action on the field outstanding.
But the missing piece of the puzzle is Australia’s failure to fully capitalise on many of these events away from the sporting action.
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Britain has recently decided to stop overseas aid to India. It had become untenable for the Government to take money from British taxpayers to subsidise a nuclear power with a space program.
It’s time Australia took a similar, hard-nosed approach to overseas aid. If the Asian Century means anything, it means Australians realising that the hubris, paternalism, and sentimentalism reflected in an old style ‘first-world helping out the third-world’ aid program is anachronistic.
Mutual economic and social benefit must be the criterion for any investment of Australian funds in another country. Leveraging and increasing Australian strengths must be the strategy.
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For the past three weeks much of the cabinet has been doing laps of honour waving the Asian Century white paper as if celebrating a major achievement.
The document has been lofted like a banner in press conferences, op-ed pieces and speeches. It has been taken overseas by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and shown to Asian political and business leaders.
But during those three weeks what has become increasingly obvious is that, outside the clutch of foreign affairs mavens and forward-think business types who didn’t need any educating on the rise of the Asian middle classes, the Asian Century white paper has been a non-event.
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For Australia to seize the opportunities of the Asian Century the Australian business community needs to confront an uncomfortable possibility – it may be the weakest link.
Australian business is typically sparing in its praise but never short of criticism of our national and state governments. Sometimes, we are so busy finding the negative in the details, we don’t support the positive in the big picture.
For example, it is time for Australian business to say the following: ubiquitous national broadband is an unqualified good thing for Australia and a massive opportunity for business at home and in Asia.
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On 28 October the Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered a speech at the launch of the White paper on Australia in the Asian Century. “History” she said “asks great nations great questions”.
As we look forward to the Asian Century we might also want to reflect on the way Australia sought to define its place in the world 100 years ago: a century marked by the global process of decolonization.
In the 1920’s the sun never set upon the British Empire but it was a rapidly changing world.
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The Gillard government’s much-touted Australia in the Asian Century report is packed full of eye-popping statistics about the rise of Asia. Did you know, for example, that 80 million people played football in Asia in 2006 and that by 2020, this is expected to reach 380 million?
China is already the world’s biggest buyer of Rolls Royce cars. In the first decade of the 21st century, the number of cars per 100 urban households in China jumped from less than one to more than 18. There are now 80 computers per 100 households in China, up from eight. There are 60 microwave ovens, up from 16. And a whopping 200 mobiles, up from 16.
Are you excited about the Asian Century yet? Wait, there’s more.
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Australia’s foreign policy, according to Foreign Minister Bob Carr in a piece published the day after Australia’s UN Security Council win, is not only about protecting our national interest, it is “about doing the right thing”. If so, we should have expected more from the most significant work on Australian foreign policy for many years.
As an advocate for human rights and democratic freedoms in Tibet, I was encouraged when the Gillard government announced its plan for a white paper on Australia in the Asian Century. Our understanding of Asia, and China in particular, was in dire need of updating. When it came to Tibet, Chinese propagandists had spent years happily filling the vacuum left by the dearth of information escaping the Great Firewall and waning government interest in the region.
During the consultation phase, several Australian NGOs provided thoughtful input on how Australia’s deepening economic relationships with Asia might also support the wellbeing of disadvantaged or marginalised groups, particularly those paying for China’s “economic miracle”.
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A woman sits in a courtroom dock. Eyes downcast. Fidgeting. Clearly tormented by recollections that are now flooding back as fresh as they were decades ago.
She describes the being frogmarched from her home by armed black-clothed soldiers. A month-long walk to a concentration camp. Giving birth on the side of a road. Being worked to the bone. Sleeping in pits covered in worms. Seeing fellow captives beheaded. Hearing the screams of innocents being tortured. Giving up her sick children so they could get proper medical help only to learn they were never treated and died alone. Knowing her husband was locked in a dark prison cell, interrogated, tortured and finally murdered.
But it isn’t Nazi Germany she is describing. It isn’t even that long ago. And it didn’t happen that far away from our shores.
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Leaving aside the irony of the term “White Paper”, there are other reasons to be a little cautious, if not blasé, about the Australia in the Asian Century report.
Basically, it is one of those big fat paper bricks created by bureaucrats which for now at least, appears to have no immediate practical application beyond starting a conversation about the kinds of real world initiatives we’d actually like to have one day.
Oh, there are stats and graphs and so forth. Some stats are rather eye-opening, such as the one that shows Asia’s food demand will double by 2050 – and that Australia will play a much bigger part in helping to feed Asia.
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US President Obama and Russian President Medvedev will attend the sixth East Asia Summit in Bali this Saturday, November 19. This historic development will make the East Asia Summit one of the world’s most important leadership forums. It will also be another signal of a continuing global power shift that will make the 21st century the Asian Century.
US and Russian participation in the East Asia Summit represents an extraordinary achievement for an Asian integration process initiated by (originally 6, now 10) ASEAN countries during the Cold War. US military primacy will continue for at least for the first half of the 21st century, highlighting the importance for Australia of the ANZUS alliance.
President Obama will celebrate the 60th anniversary of ANZUS this morning in a speech to a joint sitting of the Australian Parliament. The ANZUS alliance protects Australia with US nuclear deterrence capability that is likely to remain an effective deterrent of military adventurism by a ‘rising’ China.