International Ties

Importance of youth dialogue

By Henry Makeham (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-08 07:52
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The Asia-Pacific region has entered an unprecedented era of change. As the current growth engine of the global economy, China is now more and more deeply linked to Australia through the strategic resource trade. The rise of China means that today's youth in Australia and China - tomorrow's stakeholders in Sino-Australian affairs - will be charged with a hugely important regional relationship in a period of flux, as the face of international politics and economics undergoes a fundamental paradigm shift.

Between Oct 4 and 6, the inaugural Australia-China Youth Dialogue ( in Beijing and Shanghai sought to break down misconceptions and enhance mutual respect, trust and understanding between future stakeholders in Sino-Australian affairs.

The dynamics of political power in Asia Pacific is shifting to East Asia and the future prosperity and security of young Chinese and Australians will to a significant degree rest upon how this power shift is best managed. No one can accurately gauge how long the transition will take - there are too many unpredictable variables. But it can be safely assumed that the rise of China and its corresponding impact on the Asia-Pacific regional order will span several generations.

From a Sino-Australian perspective, the interests of avoiding tensions and mitigating fears that may surround China's rise will be served by deeper understanding between Chinese and Australian youth through increased cross-cultural dialogue among our nations' future stakeholders and leaders.

The development of dialogue between the youth of the two countries is an exercise that deserves the support of the Australian and Chinese governments, their private sectors - especially the resource and financial services sectors which have strong mutual interests in stable Sino-Australian relations - and leading academic institutions. The endeavor should be characterized by frank and robust exchanges.

China is now irrefutably a central player across the gamut of Asia Pacific affairs. Building a relationship between China and Australia within which intentions and perceptions can be tested and honed is an important objective.

The scale of China's rise and the economic opportunities generated from its growth, have naturally brought the Asia-Pacific region closer to its orbit. At the same time, China's rise is steadily - though not absolutely - wresting away the United States' relative prestige and influence.

The domination of the Asia-Pacific order by the US - which has underwritten stability and relative prosperity within the region since World War II - is in question. What is China's view of its place in the Asia-Pacific order? How will this translate into engagement with the region? Does China seek to undermine and challenge the US' primacy? Or does China seek to share responsibilities with the US and other powers in a new regional and world order?

Australia depends upon its security alliance with the US, whereas China has been Australia's economic lynchpin over the past two decades. Since diplomatic relations were formally established between Australia and the People's Republic of China under the Whitlam Labor Government in 1972 - seven years before Washington established diplomatic relations with Beijing - bilateral trade between the two countries has expanded exponentially with each passing year (two-way trade grew from $102 million in 1973 to $70.3 billion in 2009).

China is now Australia's largest single trading partner. Australians understand how China's insatiable appetite for their iron ore and other resources underwrote their standout performance as the only Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nation to avoid recession during the global financial crisis. Australia is a large and stable supplier of raw materials and energy to China that will underpin their interdependence for many years to come.

Australia's long-term interests require understanding how China is thinking about the core issues that will decide the prosperity and stability of the Asia-Pacific region. The core issues include but are not limited to climate change; energy security; nuclear non-proliferation; and transnational terrorism.

Engaging with China intelligently should be a priority for future Australian participants and stakeholders in Sino-Australian affairs to manage (or balance) simultaneously the US security relationship with the Chinese economic relationship.

China's long-term interests require that its next generation of participants and stakeholders in Sino-Australian affairs understand the perspectives of middle-power nations which are critical to China's economic security, These nations have close relations with the US and deep interests in securing a stable and prosperous Asia-Pacific region. For young Chinese, it is important to appreciate and understand the perspectives of Asia-Pacific nations apart from that of the US. They share an equal stake with China in a stable and prosperous Asia-Pacific region.

Dialogues between young Australians and Chinese can provide unique insights into the mix of challenges they will need to overcome throughout this century.

The policy narrative between the two countries still lacks long-term strategic insight. Young minds, however, can help craft a less ad hoc, more sustainable approach to Sino-Australian relations.

As Stephen Fitzgerald, Australia's first ambassador to the People's Republic of China observed, institutionalizing dialogue provides a "vehicle for problem airing and the spin-off relationships that go with it". Institutionalizing dialogue among youth leaders from the two countries can build associations that will matter to the leadership of their joint future, free of ignorance, fear and stereotype. Honest and forthright friendship through the Australia-China Youth Dialogue can deliver long-term tangible benefits to the Sino-Australian relationship and mitigate anxieties that may surround China's unprecedented rise in our region.

The author is a founder and president of the Australia-China Youth Association.