Identity Crisis Down Under
Australia appears to be amidst an identity crisis within its Asian neighborhood, as the country attempts to manage an increasingly awkward relationship between growing economic dependence on China and security reliance on America. The political posturing increased this week, when the Australian government released a national security strategy in follow up to “Australia in the Asian Century”, a paper produced three months ago that outlines several recommendations as how Australia can take advantage of Asia’s prosperity – a continent predicted to overtake the combined economic output of North America and Europe by the 2020’s. Primarily focusing on education and tourism, the paper describes several strategies for making Australia more attractive to the growing Asian middle class, and supporters agree that Australia has already proven itself as a stable, viable, and lucrative market to foreign investors. This year is expected to be the Aussie’s 22nd consecutive year of economic growth, and Australia even contributed to the bail-outs of Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98.
Asian integration has become an increasingly central focus of mainstream Australian politics and foreign policy, as not only are ethnic Asians now a key electoral constituency, but continued growth in Asia means that politicians down-under must compete to prove their “Asia-literacy”; this has led many to learn Mandarin fluently and/or support policies that have “more Jakarta, less Geneva”.
Critics however, argue that Australia is betting too heavily on Asia’s increasing rise and should instead be concerned about potential shocks. Ultimately, Australia’s security problems remain unresolved, as like elsewhere in the region, the country endeavors to address growing economic dependence on China while maintaining security reliance on America.
Regional Response to N.Korean Nuclear Tests
The set is staged for a new round of heightened tensions in the Korean region, as North Korea reacts in protest to a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on January 24th. The UNSC resolution stiffens sanctions against the North Korean regime, and extends travel bans and asset freezes in addition to promising further “significant action” as a response to North Korea’s rocket launch in December. However, the state Korean Central News Agency said it would carry out another nuclear test as part of an “all-out action” targeted at America, severely reducing hopes of Presidents Obama and Park Geun-hye for an improved relationship with North Korea’s young new leader, Kim Jong Un.
Pyongyang has so far been able to negate some of the economic impact of sanctions due to high volumes of trade with China – which was unwilling to support the UNSC at first, but later changed its mind. Ultimately, critics highlight the imperative for China to use its economic ties to North Korea to enhance regional leverage, and to act in solidarity of nearby countries by issuing a warning against further testing.