On Tuesday 3 September, the Perth USAsia Centre hosted The Hon. Peter Tinley AM
, Minister for Asian Engagement, for a breakfast roundtable at the University of Western Australia. The roundtable occasioned the recent launch of the Western Australian government’s Asian Engagement Strategy 2019-2030: Our Future With Asia.
The Asian Engagement Strategy
is the first time the state of Western Australia has articulated a dedicated policy vision for building and shaping the future of its relationships with regional partners. Predicated on the notion that the rise of Asia has been the biggest economic, social and cultural opportunity for the state, it outlines steps the government will take to provide leadership, frameworks and incentives for deepening WA-Asia ties.
"Asia currently represents 42 per cent of the world's economy, and is growing rapidly. By 2050, the region directly to WA's north will represent more than half the global economy."
We were fortunate to host a roundtable discussion where Minister Tinley explained the rationale, design and implementation of the strategy to a group of forty policy and business leaders from the Perth USAsia Centre community.
As Minister Tinley explained, the WA Government’s launch of a formal strategy for Asian engagement is designed with two inter-related objectives:
- Externally, to provide a statement of the values, agenda and strategy for building ties with Asian partners. This statement has important value in signalling to regional partners the commitment and intent of the WA Government’s ongoing efforts.
- Internally, to provide a framework in which Asian engagement activities can be organised, prioritised and implemented. This framework has particular importance in shaping the development of the recently-established Department of Jobs, Tourism Science and Innovation (JTSI), which is the lead agency for the implementation of the strategy.
The underlying premise of the Asian Engagement Strategy
is that the economic, social and cultural future of Western Australia lies with Asia. Since the 1960s, the state has developed a range of important trade relationships with the region. These trade connection provided a platform upon which deeper social and cultural links could be developed. They have also fundamentally transformed Western Australia, contributing to the economic prosperity and social opportunities afforded to citizens. As Asia continues its longstanding trajectory of industrialisation and urbanisation, its growth will continue to structure the developmental future of the state.
"WA's future prosperity is deeply connected to its ability to capitalise on its relationship with Asia.”
But to update and future-proof these Asian relationships, a significant amount of diversification is required. Historically, natural resources have underpinned WA’s external economic ties, and largely focused on partners in Northeast Asia. While these relationships provide a solid foundation for WA’s growth, a much broader and deeper set of relationships are required to fully maximise the opportunities on offer.
Sectorally, this diversification should look to areas in which WA has comparative advantages that are aligned to Asia’s needs. The Asian Engagement Strategy
identifies six priority sectors: Energy, tourism, education, mining services, advanced manufacturing and primary industries. Geographically, the state needs to look towards the fast-growing but currently under-represented economies close to WA, including Indonesia, Vietnam and India. These efforts are closely aligned to the Diversify WA
strategy recently launched by the state government.
A critically-reflective understanding of geography is a precondition for success. WA is advantaged by its geographic proximity to several key Asian markets, with recent improvements in connectivity (such as direct flights to Perth) further reducing the tyranny of distance. But equally, proximity alone will not create the understanding and relationships needed to capitalise fully on these opportunities.
There is therefore a pressing need to improve the “Asian literacy” of WA society and businesses. Importantly, Asian literacy is not just about proficiency in Asian languages, but an interconnected set of linguistic, social and institutional skills required for success. As the Asian Engagement Strategy
explains, these include:
- Linguistic literacy - Increasing the number of people who can proficiently speak an Asian language and undertake strategic and influential roles will be vital for trade, strengthening relationships and building a global reputation.
- Socio-cultural literacy - Increasing our understanding of Asian cultures and their social dynamics will improve our capacity to navigate skillfully across business, cultural and social contexts in Asia and Western Australia.
- Institutional literacy - Increasing our understanding of legal, regulatory, business and political settings and the ability to operate effectively in these complex environments, will increase the efficiency of our trade and investment negotiations, and reduce risk
Therefore, the principal focus of the Asian Engagement Strategy is to improve the capacity of WA stakeholders – across the government, business and civil society sectors – to successfully engage with Asian partners. A whole-of-government approach to capacity building will be undertaken, led by the Minister for Asian Engagement and implemented by JTSI.
“The strategy is also highly collaborative, and the State Government will support and consult WA businesses to increase their skills and capacity to trade with Asia.”
As a result, the Asian Engagement Strategy is not a one-off policy announcement, but rather an evolving agenda that will guide the future work of the state government. Key steps will include:
- The development of specific sectoral implementation plans for the six priority sectors, which will identify key projects and initiatives for priority action
- Close engagement with business and civil society partners, to inform the development of implementation plans
- An annual ‘Asian Engagement Report’, which will collect information on progress towards the strategy and refine approaches
Minister Tinley concluded his outline by noting the Asian Engagement Strategy
also requires a change in the way WA incorporates Asia into its distinctive social identity. For many years, Western Australians have thought of themselves as “in Asia” geographically, but not always “of Asia” in economic, social or institutional terms. Given the importance of Asia for the state’s future, this in/of distinction will need to be progressively rethought.
"This new strategy will ensure WA leverages the enormous opportunities to diversify our economy and create jobs as well as reap the many social and cultural benefits that will come with deeper relationships with Asia."