The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
America Can Learn from Australia’s Pivot to Asia

The “pivot to Asia” has been one of Obama’s signature foreign policy moves, but it’s not entirely unique in the world. In a white paper released earlier this week, the Australian government unveiled it’s own pivot, Australia in the Asian Century.

In order to take advantage of the forthcoming “Asian century,” the paper says, Australia needs to achieve 25 national objectives by 2025. These objectives mostly center on modifying the Australian economy to increase integration with Asia.

On the foreign policy front, the white paper attempts to lay out a path that increases engagement with Asia without compromising Australia’s relationships with either its major strategic and historical ally (U.S.) or its major economic partner (China).

There is a lot to look in the paper, but the most interesting objective is the reformation of the country’s education system to include a strong focus on Asian studies:

• Every Australian student will have significant exposure to studies of Asia across the curriculum to increase their cultural knowledge and skills and enable them to be active in the region.

• All schools will engage with at least one school in Asia to support the teaching of a priority Asian language.

• Work with universities to substantially boost the number of Australian students studying in Asia.

• All Australian students will have the opportunity, and be encouraged, to undertake a continuous course of study in an Asian language. All students will have access to at least one priority Asian language; these will be Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese.

Via Meadia believes that Australia is indeed uniquely positioned to play an important role in geopolitics, with one foot geographically in Asia and the other foot culturally in the West. Australia’s emphasis on education in Asian culture and language is likely to pay off down the road, allowing it to act as a middleman, both economically and culturally, between Asia and the West.

When it comes to America’s Asia pivot, Via Meadia has supported the policy, with some important reservations. Most notably, the pivot was exceedingly vague as to what actual policies America would pursue, and where those policies were specified, they were overly focused on military programs, with little mention of economic or cultural considerations. Australia’s pivot is considerably more balanced than America’s, and the White House and the Pentagon would do well to look across the pond for ideas.

The rise of Asia as the centerpiece of global politics is one of the most significant geopolitical developments of the 21st century, and different countries are handling the shift in markedly different ways. With their “pivots” to Asia, Australia and America are both moving in the right direction, but they are approaching the situation with different priorities and different policies. The America-Australia alliance is a close one, and both parties should learn from each other as they address the developments in the Pacific.

Published on November 1, 2012 12:50 pm