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Summary of “Twenty Years of Australia’s Engagement with Asia” by Ann Capling

Ann Capling’s article “Twenty Years of Australia’s Engagement with Asia” analyses the relationship between the East Asian region and Australia. The article also explores the two regions’ foreign policy, trade policy as well as political, economic and cultural relations between the two regions. In the article, the author examines how the Australian Labour party in 1983-1996 and the coalition in 1996-2007 pursued essentially different approaches to the common objective of creating a strong relationship with the Pacific part of Asia. Australia made the Asian engagement project give it an independent cosmopolitan society based in Eastern Asia that does not reflect on the social and cultural ways of Australia. Capling focuses on the government policies that control the stability of the engagement between Australia and eastern part of Asia as a whole. She also talks about another purpose of the article being the academic debate provoked by the engagement between Australia and Asia, especially the contribution of pacific reviews.

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The article elaborates on the relocation of Australia to Asia at the time the Labour party was in power and also under Paul Keating’s rein. The author notes that the engagement with Asia was meant to give Australia a chance to rebuild its reputation globally. The APEC forum gave Australia a platform to implement this initiative. Australia also had to ratify new economic policies that promoted govern its engagement between the two regions, and make their economy engagement profitable through the diversification of products and the multilateral export of goods.

Due to uncertain differences in economic, military and political system, the Pacific Economic Corporation Conference (PECC) was formed, where academics, diplomats and business people from the different regions would converse, make policies and, therefore, strengthen their relationship. In 1996-2007, when Prime Minister John Howard took over, he made an engagement with the United States of America. Australia’s link to America made the world view it as a westernized country. Since the initiative and economic policies had been of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), organization had deepened. This made negotiations between the four countries – Japan, China, the United States of America and Australia – an active subject. Ann Capling explains why Howard’s enigma has worked although; Michael Wesley says it was more apparent than it was real. Capling clearly points out that Howard’s paradox had worked out because Australia does not require western influence to strengthen the engagement with Asia. The institutions that emerged due to the engagement between Australia and Asia are the ones that help build the relationship and keep the good faith diplomacy between the two regions. Over the years, other forums apart from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference (PECC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been initiated, since the engagements between Australia and the Asian regions have grown bilaterally and multilaterally.

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Contrary to the fact that the different ways of Australia and Asia could have prevented the development of the engagement between the two regions, the cultural and political differences of Asia and Australia, in fact, did not hinder the strengthening of their engagement. Instead, the two regions kept their ties bonded though forums and conferences to make policies and conduct their initial engagement business. The Australian economic and security assets ensure stability in the different institutions. Howard’s efforts to move Australia into what he called “the new world” was to identify Australia as an Asian country. The efforts of the Labour party opened doors for the Anglo-American past and the East Asia Pacific future, as seen through Howard’s enigma.  Anna Capling’s review of these two regions points out the pros and cons of the engagement between any two or more countries and how to curb the differences and faults in such a diplomatic relationship.

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