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Two Wongs do make it right: A new Asian Odyssey for Australia
Two Wongs do make it right: A new Asian Odyssey for Australia.
By PF Journey.
To the average punters in Asia, the perception of Australia has been coloured, if you excuse the pun, by the White Australian Policy (THE WAP) and its remnants. Symbolically represented by Arthur Calwell's remark in Parliament in 1947 that "Two Wongs don't make a White" Caldwell later claimed it was a “jocular expression”. The contemporary Australia might have a hot economical engagement with the Asian region, but politically and socially, there are still nagging questions being asked about Australia. First, has Australia completely jettisoned the WAP? or it is still lurking just beneath the surface. Second, is Australia an Asian country? or a Western country? or an Eurasian country? or none of the above? Sometimes, I think we don’t know the answer to this question ourselves.
Post war, through the 50s and 60s, the racially based THE WAP had bi-partisan support and the support of the Australian people. Robert Menzies of the Liberal Party had skilfully exploited this to his political advantage with the fear of the yellow peril hordes charging down from the North culminating in the “all the way with LBJ” of the Vietnam War.
I was almost a victim of the WAP. I graduated from my university study in 1972 and was informed by the Immigration Department that I had to leave. I duly applied to go to Canada and was accepted in mid 1972. By then, the wind of change was blowing strongly in Australia and I decided to stay for few more months and see what tomorrow brings. The election of the Whitlam Government buried THE WAP and I stayed. Furthermore, Whitlam withdrew Australia from the Vietnam War, and established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC). The creaking door to Asia has been opened slightly.
Malcolm Fraser was a surprise. Many thought this gentleman farmer from Victoria would reverse Whitlam “closer to Asia” policy. Instead, he expanded immigration from Asian countries. More importantly, he supported and facilitated the boat people refugees to enter Australia and initiated Multiculturalism and created the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). Fraser since then has proved himself to be a great humanitarian for the developing countries.
The Hawke/Keating years adopted the “look north” policy. It correctly identified that “Australia's destiny lies in Asia and the Pacific" as said by then Immigration Minister, the colourful Al Grassby, whom many see as the real father of Multiculturalism. It has also correctly identified that the Asian economies will be the engine room of world growth and the emerging Asian markets for Australian products, goods and services. Paul Keating went further with a powerful signal to the Asian region by identifying the relationship with Indonesia as a key cornerstone. He developed a close relationship with Suharto, despite many domestic flaks. He was reported to have addressed Suharto as Bapak Suharto (father Suharto), the ultimate term of endearment or respect in the Indonesian social norm.
The Howard years were confusing for many Asians. For the start, Howard was handicapped by his August 1988 statement about Asian immigration into Australia that: “I do believe that if it is - in the eyes of some in the community - that it's too great, it would be in our immediate-term interest and supporting of social cohesion if it were slowed down a little, so the capacity of the community to absorb it was greater”. Howard’s anti Asian sentiment, rightly or wrongly, was further entrenched by his tacit support of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation adventure. Howard never could shake off the suspicion of being anti Asian.
To his credit Howard did many good things to enhance Australia’s standing in Asia. To name a few: in 1998, Australia assistance to help countries like Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea to overcome the Asian economic crisis; his tough stand by sending the troops to East Timor in September 1999, when the East Timorese were being slaughtered by the Indonesian militias; his active role in promoting the APEC as the prime forum for the Asia pacific region; his generosity to the Indonesian people during the Aceh 2004 tsunami disaster.
After 9/11, he lost the plot. His blind royalty to George Bush has not endeared him in the region. His deputy sheriff statement or non statement, plus his 2002 follow-up statement that Australia would launch pre-emptive strikes against terrorists in other countries, did anger many in Asia. The Malaysian Government responded by declaring that: “Australia has to choose whether it's an Asian country or a Western country. If you take the position of being a sheriff or deputy sheriff to America, you cannot very well be accepted by the countries of this region”.
He also raised the spectra of “is the WAP making a comeback in Australia” after his tough stand on Tampa, the new loads of boat people and seemingly anti Islam posture. It is a real irony that, while these were happening, his own seat of Bennelong was slowly changing and evolving into one of the most multicultural seats in the country. It is now folklore that Maxine McKew harnessed the multicultural votes successfully and defeated John Howard in the 2007 election.
Judging by the reactions and commentaries of the Asian press, the election of Kevin Rudd has been viewed as a very positive event and warming for the relationship between Asia and Australia. They have focused on:
Rudd is a former diplomat and an expert of Asian affairs.
Rudd will say “sorry” to the indigenous Australians.
Rudd will sign Kyoto and pull the troops out of Iraq.
Rudd will pursue a more independent foreign policy from that of USA.
The Japan Times said:
Symbolism is everything. What is a better symbol to our friends in the region that when Rudd goes to Bali for the Climate Change meeting, he will take with him a Malaysian born, Chinese woman that goes by the name of Ms. Penny Ying-Yen Wong as his Minister for Climate Change and chief negotiator. And Mr. Rudd, our PM, has not only been acknowledged as an Asian expert and speaks Mandarin but he has also been bestowed the respect with his own Chinese name, Lu Kewen, which means the hard working and enduring one.
The Indonesians have a State motto: “Bhinneka Tunggal Eka”; it means “Unity In Diversity”. The problem is that the Indonesians don’t always practise what they say. Diversity yes, but often not much unity. I am glad to say that here in Australia, like good laconic Aussies, we don’t say much, we just do it. The face we are presenting via Mr. Rudd and Ms. Wong is our “Unity In Diversity”. This is and will be our strength. This is a new Australia. This is a confident Australia. Confident of who we are and of our place in the region.
The first dividend might have already come in as reported by the Australian: