Pictured – Julie Bishop was an exceptional politician and Australia Foreign Minister – preferring behind the scenes discussion to public brawling
Australia is well represented in Asia by outstanding diplomats, but most are frustrated that too much of their time is spent repairing relationships after public outbursts from down under.
Today’s good diplomatic work leads into tomorrow’s diplomatic problem – one step forward two steps back diplomacy.
What is to be done to change Australia?
Short term, although the public is suspicious of “junkets” we need to send our politicians (and aspiring politicians) regularly to India and China, charged with building relationships that build through regular telephone follow up.
Being able to make that call across a range of levels is effective communication with cultures that are collective, like most of Asia. Every MP becomes a diplomat.
Also building on the relationships that exist through our very large Indian and Chinese diasporas would make sense, and we just need to sit down with them and work out how to leverage their networks.
Of course, it would also be good if our political leaders listened to their diplomatic advisors before rushing into public commentary – but that might be wishful thinking.
This is an entrenched problem and the solution is long term.
We need to produce a generation of culturally sensitive and adaptable students. Any move to increase student exchanges will pay off long term in relationships and cultural understanding. It has to occur at every level of education with creative ways for primary and secondary schools to make Asian connections.
Australia has pulled off the miracle of creating multicultural Australia and we accept the need for sensitivity and adaptability to other cultures at home – we now need to do the same abroad.
Finally, for leaders at all levels, please, no more “lecturing”. No Asian country welcomes a public lecture from the west – it is seen as not respecting the achievements of the Asian country and, given our history of colonial exploitation, it is just another instance of the west’s superiority complex. In other words, it’s a bit hard to take from their perspective.
The Father of the Indian Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, understood the Indian public and their sense of being exploited by the west. When asked what he thought of western culture he replied that it would be a good idea.
This is the fourth article on “Why Australia makes diplomatic errors in Asia”.