Leadership required in the Asian century
Because Asia will play a vital role both in Australia and on the world scene, seizing the opportunities and meeting the challenges that Asia presents will require leveraging the intellectual resources of Australian universities and other thought-leading institutions to contribute creatively to this process. Resolving issues ranging from urban sustainability and cyber security to forced migration and human rights are all issues key to Asia’s development and ties with Australia.
In my submission to the Federal Government's White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century I noted that the Terms of Reference state that, “the White Paper will, most importantly, consider current Australian policy settings” and develop “a high-level strategy to enhance Australia’s navigation of the Asian Century,” focusing on “opportunities to increase the economic and other net benefits to Australia from the global economic and strategic shift to Asia in the short, medium, and long term.” The Terms of Reference envisage early actions within five years, and longer-term initiatives going out to 2025.
Designing and implementing such a strategy will require leadership of a high order – leadership that has been sadly lacking in civil society around the world, as witness events since the global financial crisis. Swinburne has responded to the leadership vacuum by establishing the Swinburne Leadership Institute (SLI) to improve the quality of leadership in Australia and its Asia-Pacific neighbourhood through cutting- edge research, teaching, and public intellectual discussion. SLI will focus on values – ethics, balance, innovation, courage, communication, and practicality – and will build on Swinburne research in partnership with business, government, and not-for- profit institutions to foster shared leadership and meet shared challenges in the region.
Three issues regarding China, Indonesia, and nuclear energy are addressed in this paper to illustrate the range of challenges Australia will face in Asia, and which SLI will explore.
China’s meteoric rise owes much to the “Four Modernisations” model designed by Deng Xiaoping three decades ago and implemented by strategists like Zhu Rongji. However, the model has flaws, and China faces financial, environmental, social and demographic challenges that Australia can help it to meet in the short to medium term. To take but one issue, a key feature of China’s foreign trade relations has been export-led growth, creating tensions over perceptions by China’s trade partners that China is maintaining its currency at an artificially low rate and taking other mercantilist actions to boost Chinese exports while raising barriers to imports, thereby creating imbalances in the global trading system.
One constraint on consumer spending that could otherwise help China achieve more balanced growth is the hyper-saving habit of couples with one child facing unreimbursed social service and medical costs as they age with little support from offspring. Australian government agencies, private-sector organisations and not-for- profits should lead in helping China to build social investment for aged care that can ease working-age people’s concerns, encourage more consumer spending, help wean China away from the export-led model that is such a problem for world trade, and forge Australian ties with China’s social economy that can benefit Australian business. Swinburne’s Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy held a workshop in Shanghai on related issues in 2010, and the SLI will address these issues further in its teaching and public outreach.
As Australia’s close neighbour and the world’s most populous Muslim country astride key global trade routes, Indonesia is strategically vital. Its democratisation and economic growth may serve as a model for other developing countries. Australia has done well to support Indonesian civil society through development assistance despite the cultural gap between the countries; to the extent that Indonesia modernises its governance and deepens its democratic tradition, that culture gap, and concomitant mutual suspicion, could dissipate. Construction of over 2,000 junior secondary schools from 2005-10, and creation of 330,000 new school places, are emblematic of this effort, as are funds for the development assistance program of 2011-12 earmarked to support democracy, justice and good governance.
However, this initiative is very long-term and must stretch beyond 2025. As Indonesia specialist Karen Brooks has noted in Foreign Affairs (November 2011), President Yudhoyono has made great strides, devolving power and resources from the centre to localities, but corruption persists at all levels of government, including “decentralisation of graft” and scandals at high levels of the ruling political party. Old political habits die hard and threaten to smother reforms. Australia’s regional leadership and strategic interests require it to address these risks to Indonesia’s nascent democracy. Australian government, business, and academic institutions such as SLI must work with Indonesia to deepen mutual cultural literacy throughexpanded language study, academic exchange, and economic activity to forge deeper people-to-people ties, narrow the culture gap and strengthen Australia’s capacity to assist Indonesia to develop its own sustainable leadership model.
The catastrophe that hit Fukushima when a tsunami overwhelmed its power plants last year proved that nuclear energy is too important to be left to power companies and regulators. If a nuclear accident can devastate a nation as technologically advanced, politically stable and safety conscious as Japan, it can occur anywhere. Recent efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency to explore a stronger international regime for nuclear safety were only a start; IAEA lacks the institutional clout and mandate to lead the charge. In energy-hungry Asia, Japan has pulled away from nuclear power, while China steams ahead and India is engaged in a rancorous debate about the safety of projected power plants.
As a uranium exporter, a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and a potential nuclear energy consumer with a wealth of scientific and institutional expertise, Australia should play a lead role in the short to medium term in assessing the costs, risks, and benefits of nuclear power in the Asia-Pacific. An SLI staff member has analysed these issues in the media and in speeches for DFAT and the academic community; SLI will continue to do research and promote debate in this critical field. Transnational measures to cope with issues ranging from seismic safety to non- proliferation will be vital to convince citizens that nuclear power is safe, secure, and cost-effective enough to take on much of the energy base now shouldered by fossil fuels and protect the environment. Nuclear power can be harnessed to environmental and energy security, but it will be hard yards, and governments like Australia must lead the way.
Chinese social investment, Indonesian democratisation, and nuclear energy safety are but a few among a vast array of issues that will test the resilience of the Asian Century and demand the leadership of the Australian people. Innovation and courage will be particularly important values in grasping the opportunities and meeting the challenges of this complex and fast-changing region. SLI will seek to play its part in ensuring that the Asian Century is also the Australian Century.
For further information please contact Professor Ken Chern, Executive Director, Swinburne Leadership Institute and Professor of Asian Policy at email@example.com