Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard launched on Sunday the long-awaited White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century, containing the blueprint for the country's relations with Asia and setting up an ambitious goal of promoting the country into the world's top 10 developed nations in terms of per capita gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025.
Not much persuasion is needed from the government to convince its people that Australia's future lies with Asia. The idea has been widely shared by ordinary Australians for a long time now.
Thanks to the increasing demands on iron ore and coal by emerging Asian economies, China in particular, Australia managed to survive the global financial crisis unscathed and achieved 21 years of successive economic growth. Australians can consider themselves lucky since their country is endowed with rich natural resources, favorable all-year round weather and the fact that the country has deep British roots, therefore its people speak English, the world's lingua franca.
Australians can rightfully brag of living in a country right at the doorstep to the region of the future. It is visionary for the Australian government to embrace Asia and tie the country's future to the dynamic and promising region.
However, it needs time and efforts to convince countries in the region of Australia's sincerity to be part and parcel of Asia.
A wholehearted embrace of Asia means abandonment of prejudice, fair and unbiased treatment, and respect for cultural as well as political differences among countries in the region.
If a Chinese telecom company was banned from tendering in a strategic infrastructure project of Australia without specific reasons, few Chinese would feel the warmth of such an embrace. In the same manner if a privately-owned Chinese company willing to invest in an Australian dairy farm or cotton field was put to constant doubt by local politicians and the media about its true intention beyond normal profit-making, few Chinese would agree that their country is understood fully in Australia.
The White Paper is right to promote more Asian studies in Australian universities and more board members with Asian experience and knowledge in top Australian companies and government agencies. However, the essential question remains: how Asia should be taught in Australia?
If Asians continue to be treated as "others" instead of "us" unlike the Europeans and North Americans, any embrace of the region would only be a half-hearted move and lacks real meaning.