Surfing the wave of the Asian Century


It’s called the Asian Century, because the cause is the industrialisation and urbanisation of Asia’s most populous countries, but the impact is global.

What we’re witnessing is the greatest period of change in human history. Beside it, the industrial revolution seems sluggish and small.

The government’s White Paper, to be released tomorrow, shows us just how big this phenomenon is and just how important the impact will be.

It will be a revolution of sorts, because it is shifting the centre of economic power from North to South and West to East. And if we play our part Australia will no longer be “down under”, but part of the world that will be on top.

By 2025 Asia will account for almost half the world’s economic output. Four of the ten largest economies will be in Asia. Asia will overtake the combined economic output of Europe and North America and the combined output of China and India is likely to exceed the Group of Seven (G7) countries well before then.

The size of the opportunity is as big as the change. The Asian Development Bank estimates the region’s infrastructure needs alone will require US$8 trillion in investment, and the Boston Consulting Group describes the rising middle classes of India and China as a "$10 trillion prize".

Yet the average Australian is largely unaware that we are in the midst of an economic and social revolution.

Many are yet to make the connection between the growth in Asia and the consequences of an emerging middle class measured in the billions. Already millions have been lifted out of poverty and the appetite of the new and growing middle class for consumer goods and services has been a major contributor to the region’s economic growth and hunger for imports and consequently our own resources boom.

But there is much, much more to come. And the impact will be social as well as economic. That is what makes the White Paper important, especially for business.

The panel has explored the topic deeply, using the country’s best minds and organisations as well as hundreds of public submissions from individuals, business, community organisations and the arts. It has sought experience, facts, analysis, research and ideas and plotted a course for Australia through the economic and social transformation of the decades to come.

The White Paper is not just a report with recommendations to sit on a shelf after a few press releases have been sent. It is policy. And it’s not just for the short term electoral cycle, it’s strategies for now as well as the years ahead.

It sets goals for the structural pillars that support our nation, like education, innovation, infrastructure, regulatory systems and the environment. And it sets out the policy pathways to achieving those goals, a list of tasks for government.

But the Asian Century, its challenges and opportunities aren’t just for government. And they aren’t just for Asia. This is the world’s opportunity, and especially Australia’s, due to our geographic and social proximity.

Like every opportunity, it’s also a risk. Ignoring the goals and tasks outlined in the White Paper heightens that risk. Without domestic reforms it will be hard to access these competitive markets. Accessing the booming Asian services market will need better language and in-country skills. We will need all parts of our economy to work together help Asia finance and meet its infrastructure needs. And we will need to do this while maintaining the high standards that make us attractive to other members if the Asian century.

The biggest risk is that if we don’t make the most of the opportunity, it will overtake us. For this reason the White Paper is required reading for every business as an input to strategic planning.

Right now Australia is in the box seat. Unlike much of the world today, we have a strong economy, an appetite for and facility with technology, a mind for business, and a will to succeed. Above all, we have courage and common sense.

We need these strengths to make the Asian Century our own. It’s a tidal wave. Let’s surf it.

This opinion piece published in The Australian on Saturday 27 October by Asian Century White Paper panel member and Corrs CEO John W. H. Denton.

The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication.

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