Asia Studies Discussion Group- Semester 1 2013


For Australia: Looking North for the Future

Public discourse in Australia now heavily favours an Asian-centric worldview. Gone are the days we looked across the Atlantic for leadership and inspiration. A look at our head of state or the once mighty Europe that Britain is tied to (rather reluctantly might I add), and it is clear that we are unlikely to gain much from the continent. Both Washington and the European Union face their own uphill fiscal battles, in the process holding the world economy recovery hostage. It is no myth that the Asian giants in the East (bar Japan) have largely helped carry the global economy following the global financial crisis, though the largest of the economies- China and India are experiencing slower than forecasted growth. For example, last week The Economist reported that China grew at 7.4% in the third quarter of this year whilst the other comparable economies- India and Indonesia, grew at 5.3% and 6.2% respectively. These are truly impressive figures given the times.


On current economic trends, it is clear that a global economic power shift from West to East is happening and will continue for some time. In fact, a recent study by the National Intelligence Council has projected that China will overtake the United States as the largest economy in the world before 2030, the previously projected timeline for that change. This is the radical transformation in economic power that is now predicted by mainstream economists and policy makers. That is a world we must all prepare for. From investment decisions, to developing emerging markets and developing sophisticated networks of value-adding chains will all be affected by the economic trends that have the ability to predict the future. Australia’s future is inextricably tied to the wealth, prosperity and stability of our Asian neighbours.


On security matters, that distinction is less clear and the United States army, navy and air force are far superior than the rest of the world put together. The balance of power will still heavily favour the West, but China has shown that it too seeks to leverage some of its newly found economic prosperity into military strength. If that trend continues, we are likely to see more clashes over maritime areas and islands territories between various countries in the region. China has taken a more aggressive posture in securing its energy resources, particularly in response to the chokepoints of Malacca. It has simultaneously built strong relationships with countries with close proximity to the Indian Ocean to that end (much to the dislike of India of course). The projected scarcity in resources in the near future and the continuing demand for electricity in China’s hubs will see the demand for power double in China’s cities by 2030 according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Such domestic pressure to deliver a stable energy supply will only exacerbate the chance of conflict in the Indian Ocean between China and some of her neighbours.

My own minor thesis explores the potential chance for conflict between China and India, two of the biggest players in Asia. There are two strong reasons to believe that though conflict between them is unlikely, it is not a foregone conclusion. The first is that China and India have failed to resolve their border dispute since partition, culminating in a short but full-scale war between the two countries in 1962. The second is that, whilst China has been building strong alliances with India’s neighbours, India has moved more forcefully on its ‘Look East’ approach. That policy, often termed ‘counter-encirclement’ by military strategists mean both countries are lurking in each other’s traditional areas of influence. C. Raja Mohan looks at these two areas in some detail in his latest book Samudra Manthan: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific. All point to either a security dilemma or an element of strategic calculus played by most powers in the region. The U.S. pivot toward the Asia-Pacific, however insignificant on the ground (as most of the proposed re-orientation of forces won’t be complete till 2020) demonstrates further why Asia is, and will remain a complex geographical hotspot for some time. To further complicate matters, the election of the nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan, mean that her territorial spats with China are unlikely to don’t recede any time soon.

As we Australians begin to grasp some of the complex realities of the region and the rich cultural tapestry and economic opportunities it has to offer, we must move beyond the government’s ‘Asian Century’ rhetoric and truly integrate ourselves with Asia. As former Australia Prime Minister stated in his Keith Murdoch Oration in November last year, “Australia is front and centre in the fastest growing part of the world as never before”. Whilst simultaneously recognising that Asia faces its own challenges during this hyper-economic expansionary period, Australia is faced with a great historic opportunity to open our doors and embrace the future. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again today.

It is to this end, that I hope to launch a study group that will bring together the brightest students from diverse areas as politics, business particularly finance and economics students, energy and environmental sustainability. The discussion group would meet for 2 hours each week, beginning week 1 of Semester 1, 2013 to discuss latest reports, studies, polls and research on Asia. The criteria to apply to join this study group is below:

–       Expertise in a particular field- in economics, politics, energy & environment, finance.

–       Interest in Asia: Japan, South Korea and emerging powers like China, India and Indonesia.

–       Able to commit 2 hours each week to discussion groups with key readings to be completed each week. Participants can suggest readings for upcoming sessions.

If this study group interests you, email me at:


About amalvarghese
Amal Varghese is a Contemporary Debate Columnist for Access at the Australian Institute of International Affairs

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