[VIEWPOINT]Re-evaluating Australia’s roleWhen I was in Malaysia for an international conference in August, I had a chance to have a conversation with a local businessman. I asked him if he had ever been to Korea, and he said he had visited Seoul six times. Pleasantly surprised, I asked him what kind of business he did in Korea, and he responded, with a clearly apologetic face, that he no longer intended to invest in the Korean market. He listed three factors that had affected the decision to pull out of Korea. First of all, he said, the wage level, the second highest in Asia after Japan, prevented the business from generating enough profit. Second, the concept of service has not yet taken root. And last but not least, Korea emphasizes globalization on the surface, but his experience has taught him that the country is still very exclusive. He added that his new investment destination was Australia.
Of course, we do not need to exaggerate the independent case of one businessman, but we had better think further about why he chose Australia over Korea. Understandably, Korea considers its diplomatic and trade relationships with the big four ― the United States, Japan, China and Russia ― of absolute importance. In contrast, the Korean people, and most of those in the government, think of Australia as a popular honeymoon destination, a relatively big trade partner, and one of the only two Anglo-Saxon nations in the Asia-Pacific region along with New Zealand. More knowledgeable people would remember Australia as a country that deployed the third largest combat force in the Korean War after the United States and Britain, and a continent nation with abundant natural resources.
One might object to the idea of Australia’s being considered the most important country in Korea’s overall diplomacy, security and trade after the big four, arguing that the other Group of Seven nations, such as Britain, France, and Germany, are more important allies. But we need to define Australia’s importance more precisely. Among the more than 190 nations of the world, Korea and Australia are complementary in many aspects. The two countries are similar in the size of their economy ― Australia’s gross domestic product is $496 billion and Korea’s $500.5 billion. Korea is the third largest export market for Australian products. Australian goods make up 3.9 percent of Korea’s total imports, the fifth largest after Saudi Arabia.
More importantly, Australia advocates a policy of internationalization and globalization, being especially open about diplomatic, security and economic interests. For the last two decades, the Australian government has been pursuing engagement with Asia under a “Facing North” policy, holding bilateral working-level meetings on foreign and military affairs with Korea, Japan, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, India and Thailand. Moreover, on top of the existing alliance with the United States, Canberra has established solid security cooperation with Malaysia and Singapore by signing the Five Power Defense Arrangement.
While the Australian military is only 54,000 strong, it has never failed to deploy combat troops to all major international conflicts from World War I to the recent war in Iraq. It is true that the current Howard administration is criticized as being too supportive of Washington’s international policy. Australia is the only country in the Asia-Pacific region that actually carries out the philosophy that participating in the efforts to maintain international stability and order is relevant to the ultimate national interest of Australia itself. In the same sense, Canberra has shown great interest and concern about the security of the Korean Peninsula, including Pyeongyang’s nuclear ambition.
We can define Australia’s mission statement as globalization based on “Asianization." As a member of the British Commonwealth, Australians still feel nostalgic about the mother country. But Australia has already transformed itself into an Asia-Pacific nation. Not only is an Asianized Australia advantageous to Korea in the long run, but it is also one of the few nations that Seoul could ask for help in a time of emergency. At this point, Korea needs to acknowledge the importance of Australia as its partner and maintain and revamp the relationship.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at the Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Chung-min