Australia – in Asia?

A persistent question, with unfortunate (geo-)political overtones, is whether Australia can be conceptualised as part of “Asia”, as opposed to more circumscribed “Australasia”, or the very broad “Asia-Pacific” (including all Pacific / Rim countries, including the Americas).
This has practical importance for my 21-chapter book forthcoming with Brill, co-edited with Julien Chaisse on “International Investment Treaties and Arbitration Across Asia“. We decided to include a chapter on Australia and New Zealand as a potential “collective middle power” that may influence the trajectory of international investment (treaty) law in the region.
The issue had earlier cropped up in the CUP book on “Independent Directors in Asia“, co-edited with Harald Baum and Dan Puchniak (and with enormous input also from Souichirou Kozuka), which is finally now in the type-set page proof stage and so should be published by November 2017. My chapter with Fady Aoun comparing Australian developments, which influenced Hong Kong in key respects with further ramification, ended up being placed after country studies in Asia (in the narrow or traditional sense) in the “Alternative Perspectives and Conclusions” part of the book. Below I reproduce [and lightly update] my memo of January 2015 arguing why it makes sense to consider Australia as part of Asia, especially for projects such as these.

“Australia in Asia”
1. Over the last 50 years, Australia has developed very extensive economic relations throughout the Asian region. There is widespread acknowledgement among policy-makers, business leaders and the general population that the nation’s future is increasingly bound up with this dynamic region. (See also eg:‘The research and advocacy group Asialink publishes an annual index of Australia’s engagement with 25 nations of Asia embracing trade, investment, education, tourism, business development and humanitarian assistance. The index was set at a benchmark 100 points in 1990. In 1995 it was 175. The latest reading, for 2012, was 448.’)
2. Five of Australia’s top 10 two-way trading partners are in Asia, which already accounts for over 60% of its overall trade. Four of its top 10 sources of inbound investment are Asian economies.
3. Out of 10 Free Trade Agreements concluded by Australia, six are bilateral agreements with Asian states (including China, Japan and Korea, three of its four largest trading partners) and one is a regional agreement with the ten ASEAN economies (plus New Zealand). (At the time, Australia was also presently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (ASEAN+6 FTA) as well as bilateral FTAs with India and Indonesia.)
4. Australia was pivotal in establishing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 1989, and has been a founding member of the East Asia Summit (comprising 18 economies) since 2005.
5. Significant and growing proportions of Australian citizens and residents were born in Asia or are of Asian ancestry. [The growing proportion is most significant and evident also from the 2016 Census data.]
6. Asia is the largest target region for Australia’s Overseas Development Assistance program, which includes a major emphasis on legal technical assistance.
7. Australian jurists have longstanding links especially with the common law countries in Asia, and growing connections with other major legal systems in the region such as Japan. Australia was a driving force in establishing Lawasia in 1966, to ‘facilitate regional interaction at all levels amongst law associations, judges, lawyers and others involved in the legal community’ and ‘to be an established voice for the interests of the legal community in Asia and the Pacific’.
8. Legal systems in Asia (such as Singapore) refer to Australian models and experiences particularly in corporate and securities law reform.
[In sum, as famously expressed at a panel discussion at the National Museum of Australia in late 2015 by George Megalogenis – a well-known journalist, political commentator and author: Australia is “fast becoming the world’s first genuine Eurasian nation“.]

Author: Luke Nottage

Prof Luke Nottage (BCA, LLB, PhD VUW, LLM LLD Kyoto) is founding co-director of the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL), Associate Director (Japan) of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney (CAPLUS), and Professor of Comparative and Transnational Business Law at Sydney Law School. He specialises in international dispute resolution, foreign investment law, contract and consumer (product safety) law.