During this time of great change and opportunity how do business, culture and government work together and drive competitiveness in the Asian Century.
As the keynote speaker Corrs Partner and CEO John W. H. Denton addressed The Australian China Youth Dialogue.
Click 'text version' to read John's speech.
Let me begin by saying that the Asian Century is in full force and effect!
I’ve been asked to speak about how Australia can remain competitive in the Asian Century and how business, culture and government can work together to keep us competitive during this time of great change and opportunity.
As an aside, culture may seem to appear to be a term that doesn’t seem to belong in the company of “business” and “government”.
Culture, as I see it, can mean two things. It can represent our cultural institutions like the arts, sports, community groups, religious organizations, educational organizations, scientific communities and everything else that does not neatly fall within the parameters of “business” or “government”.
Or, culture can be less tangible to include our mind-sets, beliefs and customs.
Whatever your definition, culture is a distinct part of society that must work in tandem with business and government to guarantee that Australia remains competitive in the Asian Century.
Now that we’ve dispensed with any confusion caused by the inclusion of “culture”, let me make very clear that Australia cannot afford to be relegated to the side-lines as Asia re-ascends! To remain competitive, we must change our mind-set that has been historically oriented towards the West and look afresh at the opportunities that are happening before us, in our very region.
This is not to say that we should turn from our relationships with our friends in the Americas and Europe, but rather that we should expand our mind-set to build a bridge to Asia - a giant, multi-laned bridge between Australia and Asia, with China as one of the major anchors on the other side.
Business, culture and government will all be required to work together to build this bridge to encourage the formation of deeper and broader relationships within and across Asia.
I thought it first would useful to provide some background about the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, which can be thought of as the blueprint for the building of the bridge.
Then I’ll discuss how Australia’s role and experience as a middle power is crucial for building the necessary relationships, partnerships and interconnections with its Asian partners on the other side of the bridge, especially with China.
If we’re talking about utilising Australia’s middle power status effectively, it’s also vital to talk about harnessing the full power of first-track and second-track diplomacy to help build the bridge from Australia.
And finally, I’ll expound upon how it’s not only important to get the “elites” in business, culture and government to recognize the opportunities in the Asian Century, but crucial that there is buy-in from average Australians at all levels of and across our society to ensure that the bridge not only links us with Asia, but is used effectively in the future.
Let’s go back to the beginning when the then Prime Minister commissioned the White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century in September 2011. Its purpose was to be a “national blueprint for a time of national change”.
As a member of the Advisory Panel of the team that prepared the White Paper, I can tell you that the ultimate goal was to create “a prosperous and resilient Australia, fully part of the region and open to the world”.
We recognized that Asia is entering a new “Golden Age” accompanied by its own massive changes. For Australia to navigate these changes, we needed to push for corresponding reforms at home that were both significant in scale and integrated to maximize their effect.
The Advisory Panel was not interested in merely incremental change. “More of the same, but faster” would fall far short of matching the scale of the opportunities that were coming with the Asian Century.
Drawing on the ways and mind-sets of the past would not suffice. New and expanded mind-sets would be required to fully take advantage of the Asian Century and engage across all levels of society with our Asian partners.
With the White Paper as the plan for building the bridge to Asia, five major action points were crafted to keep Australia competitive in the Asian Century.
First, building on our strengths and reinforce the things we do well.
Second, developing the capabilities of our people and make sure that they understand the region. These capabilities and this understanding are necessary to build deeper and broader relationships and partnerships across the region.
Third, ensuring that the business sector develops strong relationships with others in the region while creating new business models and mind-sets to seize business opportunities in the region.
Fourth, keeping our region stable. The aim was to work to build trust and cooperation in the region and to secure a greater role for Asian countries in the rules-based regional and global order.
Fifth, strengthening Australia's relationships across the region at every level (of Australian society). A wide range of groups — from businesses, to educational institutions, to community groups, to unions, to cultural organisations and even to sports teams — can enjoy stronger relationships through Asia. It will be these relationships that form the base for future improvements in Australia's relations with Asia.
These five action points, more fully realized in the twenty-five national objectives laid out in the White Paper, are the blueprint or “roadmap” for business, culture and government as they collaborate to build the bridge to Asia.
But before we can talk about how business, culture and government must work together to not only build the bridge, but ensure its effective use, I want to talk about Australia’s role and experience as a middle power to build relationships, partnerships and interconnections on the other side of the bridge.
Our status as a middle power is fundamental to us being able to both build a bridge to Asia and effectively utilise it to remain competitive in the Asian Century, especially when it comes to building a deeper and broader relationship with China.
Robert Keohane, an American academic of International Relations, defined a middle power as a country that “cannot hope to affect the system acting alone [but] can nevertheless exert significant impact on the system by working through small groups or alliances or through universal or regional international organizations.”
Australia has been very effective in the past at using its middle power status to have a significant impact on Asia.
Working closely with Japan, we were instrumental in the formation of APEC. Our initiatives culminated in us hosting the first meeting of 12 key economies of the Asia Pacific region in Canberra in November 1989.
We took a lead role and put forward the Cambodian Peace Plan that ended hostilities and paved the way for elections in the early 1990s.
We worked with South Korea and Indonesia during the Global Financial Crisis to elevate the G-20 from a foreign ministers’ level meeting to a leaders’ level summit, replacing the G-8 as main economic council of the world’s major economies.
These examples are not just isolated successes, but examples of how we have mastered our status as a middle power, and that status can be used to build even deeper and broader relationships across Asia.
Our ability to build the bridge to Asia is inextricably linked to our middle power status and the type of diplomacy that flows from such a position.
Gareth Evans, a big proponent of middle power diplomacy, defines it as “the kind of diplomacy which can, and should, be practised by states which are not big or strong enough, either in their own region or the wider world, to impose their policy preferences on anyone else; but who do recognize that that there are international policy tasks which need to be accomplished if the world around them is to be safer, saner, more just and more prosperous . . . and who have sufficient capacity and credibility to be able to advance those tasks.”
Australia certainly has the capacity and credibility, along with the “opportunity” and “creativity” to actualize the objectives in the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper and build a bridge to Asia ensuring that we become “fully part of the region across all levels of society, business, government and the community.”
Our middle power status is especially valuable when it comes to building a deeper and broader relationship with China.
We do not have to choose between China and the U.S., but rather as a middle power and fully engaged participant in the Asian Century, it is possible for Australia to have productive relationships with both countries.
China and Australia have already been working hard to deepen and broaden our relationship, both formal and informal.
Formally, we signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with China in April 2013 that established annual leadership talks between the Prime Ministers of both countries, as well as a strategic economic dialogue between the two countries.
Informally, we have done so through such channels as education and tourism.
Nearly 30% of all overseas students studying in Australia come from China.
China is also the second-largest source of tourists for Australia.
Our relationship from the highest levels of government through dialogues like the ACYD and down to the tourists who come to take pictures in front of the Sydney Opera House is evidence of the deepening and broadening relationship with China.
The opportunities to build upon our relationship with China will increase exponentially during the Asian Century.
One opportunity to significantly deepen our relationship with China using our middle power status is to work closely with China’s leaders to help chart its role in the international community.
Australia wants to “contribute to Asia’s development as a region of sustainable security in which habits of cooperation are the norm.” To build a successful bridge with China as an anchor, we must “[s]upport China’s participation in the region’s strategic, political and economic development”.
With China’s rise, the role China will be expected to play regionally and internationally will grow. Australia, through its Strategic Partnership and future initiatives, is uniquely positioned to work with China to identify areas of common interest to improve upon as China continues to expand its engagement with the region and world.
By working closely with China to make the country a responsible regional and international stakeholder, we will ensure that we have a strong anchor at the other end of the bridge.
Utilising Australia’s middle power status effectively requires us to talk also about harnessing first-track and second-track diplomacy to build out the bridge from Australia.
First-track diplomacy is straight-forward. It’s where the federal government determines foreign policy priorities that are then carried out by professional diplomats.
Second-track diplomacy has been traditionally defined as the direct involvement of private organisations or individuals in conflict resolution.
Today, it has moved far beyond that narrow definition and the many levers of second-track diplomacy would probably be unrecognizable to former U.S. Foreign Service officer Joseph V Montville, who first coined the phrase “track two diplomacy”, in an article in Foreign Policy magazine some three decades ago.
Today, second-track diplomacy includes everything from tie-ups between Australian and various Asian universities to the creation of the East Asian Australian Football League.
Australia has not always been as good as some other countries in employing track-two diplomacy. But if we are to remain competitive in the Asian Century, we need to learn how to deploy this type of diplomacy to build deeper and broader relationships throughout the region. At home, we need to broaden the scope of who can partake in such diplomacy and expand mind-sets to ensure that every level of Australian society is thinking about how to go out and build relationships, partnerships and interconnections in Asia.
Our relationship with China has already benefitted from first-track and second-track diplomacy.
First-track diplomacy culminated in the Strategic Partnership Agreement.
Second-track diplomacy means that Australia today has more formal partnerships with Chinese universities than with any other country, surpassing its ties to U.S. institutions.
However, many more opportunities have yet to be seized.
While approximately 100,000 Chinese students studied in Australia in 2011, only 3.000 Australians studied in China. This imbalance needs to be addressed.
For the delegates selected to participate in this year’s ACYD, you have been actively participating in second-track diplomacy all week and as long as you remain engaged, you will continue to do so for the rest of your lives. The sessions, dinners and informal conversations that you’ve enjoyed have formed the basis for long-lasting relationships on both a personal and professional level. These relationships do nothing but strengthen the Chinese-Australian partnership.
The bridge to Asia cannot only be built, but must be utilised effectively for the continued formation of organic relationships with our Asian partners across all levels of Australian society. Successful second-track diplomacy in Asia mandates that we have participation from every level of Australian society.
This is a perfect lead-in for my last point.
It’s not only important to get the “elites” in business, culture, and government to recognize the opportunities in the Asian Century, but crucial that there is buy-in from average Australians at all levels of society
Without participation at every level of Australian society, Australia will not remain competitive in the Asian Century.
Fortunately, there are many factors working together that will hopefully get the average Australian to realize that their futures lie in Asia.
First, there will be increased economic integration with Asia in the form of trade, participation in multilateral forums and business roundtables and inbound and outbound investment.
Second, there will be increased social integration through educational exchanges, dialogues like the ACYD, sport, social media, non-profit and religious organizations.
Third, Australia’s demographics are rapidly changing.
26 per cent of all Australians are already born overseas.
Only 54 per cent have parents who were both born in Australia.
19 per cent of the population speaks a language other than English at home, with Mandarin being the most common after English. 
Fourth, will be the passing of leadership from Baby Boomers to Millennials, who are more global in their outlook.
To accelerate the process of getting the average Australian to expand their mind-set to freshly evaluate the opportunities afforded by the Asian Century, people-to-people exchanges like the ACYD will become crucial to ensure that the bridge to Asia is utilized effectively. These exchanges go a long way to bring average Australians together with their Asian counterparts to find common interests that will only serve to deepen and strengthen our ties to Asia.
The American financier, John Pierpont, better known to all as “J.P.” Morgan once said “The wise man bridges the gap by laying out the path by means of which he can get from where he is to where he wants to go.”
Australia wants to fully be a part of and a partner to the region. That is where we want to go. The White Paper is a blueprint for building a bridge to Asia to that will eliminate the gap between us and Asia.
It is imperative that business, culture and government collaborate to build the bridge to Asia.
The motivation should be that the successful completion of the bridge to Asia will bring countless economic, political and social benefits to the entire region.
For the bridge to be used effectively, we must deepen our existing relationships, partnerships and interconnections and build new ones across all levels of society, business, government and the community to keep Australia competitive in the Asian Century.
If Australia can successfully build this bridge to Asia, it will not only solidify Australia’s role as an indispensable partner with China and the rest of Asia during the Asian Century and beyond, but serve as a link and model for other countries figuring out how to engage with China and the rest of Asia in the Asian Century!
I know that many of you are eager to eat your entrée, so on that rousing note I will wrap up for the evening. Thank you again for the invitation to address you all tonight.
 Click here to read Helen Davidson, “Australia the most expensive place in the world to study, report finds”, 14 August 2013
 Click here to read Robert Upe, “Chinese tourists' favourite destinations revealed”, 10 September 2013.
 Click here to read Jessica Marszalek, “Australian universities choose partnerships with China over USA”, 26 November 2012.
 Click here Nick Bryant, “The changing face of the average Aussie”, 23 April 2013.
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