[Viewpoint]The Korea-Australia connection

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[Viewpoint]The Korea-Australia connection

When I told my daughter that I was going to Australia, her first response was to say, “Dad, please take lots of pictures of kangaroos.” We are living in a time when we eat Australian beef, drink Australian wine and learn English in Australia, but in the imagination of our children, Australia is an animal kingdom of kangaroos and koalas.

Frankly, my perception of the land down under was not much different, at least until I flew 10 hours and to see it with my own eyes. After all, seeing is believing.

I’d heard that Korea imports coal and iron from Australia, but the actual numbers are beyond my imagination. Korea imports one-third of its mineral resources from Australia. If it weren’t for Australia, Posco, an international leader in the steel industry, wouldn’t exist. Posco imports 45 million tons of iron ore every year - of which Australia supplies 25 million tons. Of the 23 million tons of bituminous coal Posco imports in a year, 12 million come from Australia. Iron ore and soft coal are the two most important minerals in the steel industry, and there is no more stable and reliable supplier than Australia.

In 2007, Korea imported $5.4 billion worth of minerals from Australia. Considering the skyrocketing prices of raw materials, that figure is expected to double this year.

Australia and Korea first began relations during the Korean War. Australia sent 17,000 troops, and 339 of them were killed in action. The Australian National Korean War Memorial can be found on Anzac Parade in the capital of Canberra, and the Australian War Memorial Museum has a separate section on the Korean War. The relationship between the two countries has made great progress over the past five decades.

The trade volume between the two countries was 17.9 billion dollars last year, Korea being Australia’s fourth-largest trade partner, and Australia the sixth-largest partner of Korea.

The country abandoned the White Australia policy and began actively accepting Asian immigrants in the 1970s. Today, about 100,000 ethnic Koreans reside in Australia. Over 22,000 Korean students are studying in Australia, the second-largest foreign student population after China. Moreover, 30,000 young Koreans are now staying in Australia on working-holiday visas.

The first annual Korea-Australia Leadership Forum was held in Canberra on Oct. 14 and 15. The East Asia Institute in Korea and the Australian National University co-hosted the event based on the understanding that the intangible relationship between the two nations is as important as the tangible one. Government officials, scholars and business leaders of the two countries attended the forum to discuss future-oriented plans for developing relations.

Korea and Australia are mutually supplementary economies, being the 13th and 14th largest economies in the world, and the attendees agreed that the both countries share a similar strategic understanding of the Asia-Pacific region. Both are open nations with market economies, liberal democracies and security alliances with the United States.

The forum was held amid the global financial crisis, and the focus was the consequences of the damaged American leadership in the U.S.-oriented Asia-Pacific order. The hottest topic was China.

Despite the weakened American influence, the attendees forecast that the supremacy of the United States in the region is likely to continue, and Korea and Australia, being the mid-powers in the area, can cooperate to accommodate a stable power shift to China in the future. Just as the two countries took the initiative in the course of establishing APEC, the two can share a leading role in building a union of mid-powers in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia’s origins are in Great Britain, and 90 percent of the population is of Caucasian or European descent. Nevertheless, Australia is positioning itself as an Asian nation. If Japan’s vision in the 20th century was “leaving Asia and entering Europe,” Australia’s plan for the 21st century is just the opposite. The two countries are geographically far apart, but we can have tighter strategic interests. It is about time we paid attention to the intangible value of Australia.

*The writer is an editorial writer and a traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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