‘There is too much Asia, and she is too old’

Why do we seek Asian entrepreneurs? So that they could take us into Asia, particularly the poorer, developing areas such as China and Vietnam. It may well work out. It is certainly a more beneficial policy than family reunion, which costs the taxpayer a great deal. Yet our lack of independence becomes audible when Australia squawks about wanting APEC. When Malaysia’s PM was described as recalcitrant for not supporting APEC, I found myself almost taken to task; the reference was to “your PM”, the recalcitrant one. It doesn’t take long for the xenophobia to come out, I thought. When asked for an explanation, I gave my enquirers the following folk tale.

I said, “Let’s assume that there is this American drover, with his Aussie sheepdog, which is renowned for its skill and obedience. At the drover’s whistle, the dog rushes into the Asian paddock and tries to round up some very experienced and tough rams, each an emperor in his own paddock. Eventually, most of the emperors having been enticed by the drover offering an appropriate side inducement, the dog confronts the last one. There is no purpose in the dog bad-mouthing this ram who (like the proverbial Aussie ‘digger’ of yore), knows his rights and will not budge, and he is in his own terrain. Switching analogies, it is the drover and his dog who are outside their patch and, as Kipling said, ‘A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.’ As I expected, my folk-tale went down like a lead balloon!

My challenge to my enquirers was, why on earth should not the Asian countries decide their own destiny, the configurations they wish to adopt, and the timing of any changes? Is this a modified form of gunboat policy, such as the European nations’ incursion onto China’s coast of not that long ago? We say, “We want a part of your trade – make way not only for us but also our godfather.” In the meantime, the godfather naturally is busy doing his own hustling. Are we afraid that we might be left out? What trade-off can we, and do we, offer? As Ali Baba must have discovered, shouting is not very effective in opening the door to riches.

As I asked my somewhat large audience at a Probus club meeting, what is it that Australia is offering for entry into South-East Asia? We obviously have much to offer, but is it enough? Is it wanted? Is it more than offered by other nations? We may be happy the way we are, but developing nations may not want the union control of so much of our economic policies, the emphasis on welfare rather than on creating wealth, and on savings and growth.

The high infrastructure costs (e.g. shipping, stevedoring and inland transport, government charges and controls), an anaemic work ethic (aided by current industrial relations legislation), and the sanctimonious shibboleth about the supremacy of the white man’s social systems, e.g. electoral, criminal justice, and law-and-order structures and family responsibility. Quoting Kipling again, “Asia is not going to be civilised after the methods of the West. There is too much Asia and she is too old.”

Sadly, I found in the early Nineties that many Singaporean and Malaysian professional people had returned after a short stint of work (under permanent resident status) in Australia. The reason was a better lifestyle back home. Even some medical specialists had returned. But they had left their children behind. … … What holds skilled Asian immigrants in Australia is the availability of tertiary courses for their offspring, and the low cost of it. The best combination for many of them is work in Singapore and Malaysia, and study in Australia for their children, who retain their right of return to their countries of parental origin.

(When the nations of south-east Asia formed ASEAN, which developed its own policies, leading Western nations rushed to form APEC, which naturally included them. The burgeoning economic ‘tigers’ and their associates were not to be too independent. Then, when the top 5 ASEAN nations had their economies and currencies attacked in the 1990s, APEC was not heard of. Did it do anything to protect the Asian economies?

The IMF, of course, offered its normal prescriptions, which would have imposed even more hardship on the poorest of the peoples in these nations. By the time the crisis was over, there should have been quite a number of Western corporations within the hardest hit of the ASEAN nations, having acquired businesses in ‘fire sales.’ ASEAN’s policies would now benefit these foreign enterprises.

The above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ do not bring out the geo-politics involved when the independent nations of south-east Asia sought to develop themselves. They had to counter the ‘dog-eat-dog’ globalisation process which said, effectively, that the West wanted a share of any growth in the new nations.)