Aust White Paper must include Pacific Islands views | Pacific Beat

Aust White Paper must include Pacific Islands views

Aust White Paper must include Pacific Islands views

Posted 14 December 2011, 10:54 AEDT

The shift in the world's economic and strategic weight to Asia has prompted the Australian government to commission a White Paper on 'Australia in the Asian Century'.

It is expected to deliver a blueprint for Australia's engagement with the region, to cabinet in the first half of next year.

Australia's Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, says the White Paper will drive debate and public policy over the next 10 to 15 years and provide a basis for high-skill, high-wage jobs and greater prosperity for all.

The Sydney-based Lowy Institute says it offers a unique opportunity for Australia to consider the role of the Pacific Islands.

Presenter:Jemima Garrett

Speaker:Michael Wesley, executive director, Lowy Institute for International Policy

WESLEY: One of the things our research has really highlighted it the shift in economic weight in the world much closer to Australia and the Pacific region more generally. Of course there a number of economies in the Pacific that are resource producers and the rise of Asia is being fuelled by a significant thirst for resources so there are considerable economic upsides for Australia, Papua New guinea, Solomon Islands, New Zealand and various other Pacific countries.
GARRETT: You say Australia is something of a canary in a coal mine when it comes to resources development. Why?
WESLEY: Well, we've seen a significant reshaping of the Australian economy because of ..largely, the demand from china, but also other Asian markets. We've seen, for instance, the expansion of the Australian resource sector, the contraction or, at least, the flat-lining of the manufacturing sector in Australia and parts of the services sector. We have seen a very high Australian dollar. And that has had significant effects not only on our ability to plan our own future and to reform our own future but nit has had significant effects in politics as well. We've seen controversy over the royalties from a resource tax lead to the down fall of a Prime minister so there is political instability that can flow from this and i really do think that there are lessons in the Australian experience for other Pacific countries.
GARRETT: Well, In Papua New Guinea the scale of the resources boom compared to the size of the economy is much, much bigger than it is in Australia. If these are the sorts of troubles Australia is having, how can Papua New Guinea cope with the onslaught?
WESLEY: Well, through very careful planning and through going into this with its eyes firmly open, aware of the potential pitfalls of a resource curse, very aware of own weaknesses in terms of what it can do. That would be the best way to do it and I guess our research and our policy on this is that Pacific nations really should be looking to learn from each other in dealing with both the opportunities and the challenges of a rising Asia.
GARRETT: And you are particularly keen to see more debate throughout the Pacific about what the rise of Asia means, aren't you?
WESLEY: Well, I think this should really be a subject that broadens the discussions at various Pacific Island Forum meetings. You know, they tend to be fairly formulaic, inward looking discussions and what I would like to see is a genuine open discussion of how various Pacific countries see the rise of Asia, what they see as being the opportunities and the challenges and a genuine exchange of what could be the possible responses to it.
GARRETT: Coming back to the Australian White Paper, what would you like to see come out of that project in terms of Australia's relations with the Pacific and how that relates to Asia?
WESLEY: Well, I guess a general acknowledgement that Australia isn't the only country that faces a rising Asia; that there are a whole range of countries in the Pacific region, in South East Asia that are thinking very hard about the same things and I guess what i would urge on the White Paper team is just to acknowledge that Australia is not alone here and that we could benefit from a dialogue with our neighbours in south East Asia and the South Pacific.
GARRETT: There has been a lot of debate about the rise of china and with (US President) Barak Obama's recent visit that has been set in a strategic context. Over the last couple of months we've seen some significant developments. One was China's decision to join the global aid effectiveness efforts at the Busan conference, in Korea. The other was China's willingness to sign up to global climate change efforts through the Durban conference. How significant do you think those moves are and what does it mean in the Pacific?
WESLEY: Well, they are very interesting indeed. I think the way that I would interpret them is that china has had some fairly bad press. In recent months and years it has, to some extent, been boxed in by confrontations with its neighbours over its maritime boundaries and disputed maritime claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea and this is probably a reflection of china thinks 'Well, we could do with a bit of relationship building and a bit of image building'. That is the way I interpret its policies in Busan and in Durban. The south Pacific, particularly in Busan, ...I think, the South poacific really can benefit from this. China is a major aid supplier in the South Pacific. There is some controversy over whether Chinese aid is actually addressing the real issues faced by the countries of the South Pacific and i think this new signal of a new willingness to engage and collaborate in development assistance will be a good thing for the South Pacific.

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