For many years, despite its Antipodean location, Australia has looked to Europe, and then America when it comes to foreign relations and cultural influence rather than to its closest neighbours in Asia. The reasons behind this are mostly cultural. The majority of Australian residents are descended from European stock, and many have family connections back in the old country. In recent years, this universal pattern has started to change, and there are even signs that the rate of change is now beginning to accelerate. In this article, we will consider the factors which lie behind the Australian pivot towards Asia and think what this might mean for the country economically, socially and culturally.
Why is Australia Pivoting Towards Asia?
There are two compelling reasons for this change. The first is a large amount of immigration to Australia from Asian countries that has taken place over the last few decades. This has caused significant changes to the Australia population and has led to social problems in some parts of the country. This new population means that there is now the type of close links between Australian people and their families in Asian countries that previously only existed between Australia and Europe.
The second is the natural resource boom which has taken place in Australia over the last two decades or so. This has primarily been driven by demand from the Chinese market, for which Australia is a relatively close source of resources as compared to Europe or North America. This has established, and embedded, economic ties between Australia and countries such as China, Japan and South Korea. It has also brought a wave of Asian culture into Australia, making it a far more diverse place than ever before.
What Does the Future Hold?
The Asian population of Australia is growing faster than its European or indigenous counterpart and is likely to become a more significant part of the country’s overall population over the coming years. This means that more people at the senior levels of politics, media and business, will have ties to Asia and are likely to look there, rather than Europe when trying to build relations abroad. Of course, the established relationships which Australia has with other countries will continue to hold a significant amount of power, especially when it comes to the way that things are done in the country. The change will not be overnight, but in time, it is likely that Europe will factor less and Asia more in the way that Australians see their place in the world.
Of course, several roadblocks could slow down the pivot to Asia, which is currently happening in Australia. The biggest threat is a slowdown in the global economy. A lot of trade between Asia and Australia is now based on the latter’s booming natural resources sector. If demand for these resources in countries such as China starts to fall due to a faltering economy, then the need for strong economic ties will lessen, at least in the short term. While the strong links between recent Australian immigrants and Asia are likely to embed relationships in the long-term, it is not a given that the pivot will continue at the same pace it is currently moving at.
The pivot to Asia is likely to define Australian politics over the coming decades and will change the way Australia perceives itself and is perceived by others.