Australia should actively seek inclusion in the ASEAN group of countries to recognize our geographical location in that region and to further our alignment with the member countries. A free trade agreement has already been signed between Australia, New Zealand and the ASEAN nations, but this should be extended into full membership as a matter of priority. The resulting economy would be roughly double that of India and, with the inclusion of South Korea, would begin to be comparable to Japan. This would provide a huge strength in both numbers and economies to provide a counterbalance to the huge regional power that China, Japan and the US currently hold.
The proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECP) currently being negotiated would increase the ASEAN plus Australia and New Zealand group to include South Korea, China, India and Japan; creating the world’s largest economic bloc. Consideration must be made as to the overall benefits of such an agreement over a bloc that excludes China, India and Japan. The latter bloc would provide balance in the region as opposed to making all the smaller economies subject to dumping, economic hollowing and other abuse from China and Japan in particular.
With the likelihood of the US imploding into a mess of selfish greed and civil war, China will emerge as the leading world economy. Australia needs to be prepared for this eventuality by binding itself to our increasingly large and strong Asian neighbours. These ties should be far more than economic; they need to create a new community of nations that can work to bridge gaps of cultural understanding and find the strengths in the differences. Australia needs to introduce foreign languages into the curriculum from pre-school onwards to encourage these bridges to form. In addition we need far deeper multicultural education across the system to produce a new generation geared to work with the Asian community; rather than having Australia see itself as somehow belonging in Europe or the US.
We must recognize our geography and interdependence to forge a new kind of community across all of Asia.