Asia has Australia’s attention but can New Zealand get Australia’s?

Media release, 1 June 2010

The different routes taken to the World Cup in South Africa this month could be a metaphor for New Zealand and Australia’s differing approaches to each other and to Asia, says a new joint report by the Asia New Zealand Foundation and the Lowy Institute.

While there is faint chance the Socceroos and the All Whites will play each other in the tournament, both teams have made it there by quite separate roads – Australia through Asian qualifying rounds and New Zealand through the Oceania Football Confederation.

The decision taken by Australian football administrators to enter the Asian Football Confederation could be said to reflect a trend whereby Australia is entering Asian regional organisations while viewing New Zealand as increasingly peripheral to Canberra’s relationships with Asia.

As a result New Zealand faces increasing competition for Australia’s attention from the growing pull of strategic and economic priorities increasingly centred in Asia, says the Standing Together, In Single File: Australian Views of New Zealand and Asia report to be launched later today (Tuesday June 1).

 “If there is some appreciation in Australia of New Zealand as more deeply engaged in and affected by the South Pacific, the opposite is truer when Australia thinks about Asia and New Zealand”, the Standing Together, In Single File report said.

Some recent examples include a deepening Australia-US-Japan Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (TSD) which first met at the ministerial-level in Australia in 2006 and Australia’s recent security declarations with South Korea in 2008 and India in 2009.

Later this year, Australia, with Russia, will be a first-time participant in the biennial ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) to be held in Brussels in October. New Zealand has so far been left out.

The report does note the high level of cooperation between the two governments when it comes to some mutually shared national interests in Asia including peacekeeping missions such as in East Timor.

But it explores the factors in Australian defence, trade and foreign policy that explain why New Zealand may be drifting more and more into the background of Australian views of Asia.

While the report by Dr Malcolm Cook of the Lowy Institute says the view from Canberra is that the two trans-Tasman countries stand together in relation to Asia, the perception is more one of standing in single file looking forward with Australia in the lead position rather than side by side.

But New Zealand did “occasionally elbow its way to the front in Asia, to Australia’s chagrin”. For example New Zealand did become the first developed country to sign a free trade agreement with booming China in 2008.

 “New Zealand does feature as a source of economic completion for Australia when it comes to Asia, an element that is bound to grow with Asia’s rising economic importance globally and the apparent breakdown of global trade negotiations and the glacial pace of East Asian and Asia-Pacific ones. This is one domain where Australians express concern that New Zealand is trying to elbow itself ahead of Australia in Asia and beyond.”

Meanwhile an FTA with China still eludes Australian trade negotiators and the report notes it looks likely that New Zealand may also win the race to clinch a trade deal with the other billion plus Asian consumer market, India.

The report’s author, Dr Malcolm Cook, is Program Director, East Asia at the Lowy Institute for International Policy. He completed a PhD in International Relations from the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University and also holds a Masters degree in International Relations from the International University of Japan and an honours degree from McGill University in Canada, his country of birth.

The Lowy Institute is an independent international policy think tank. Its objective is to generate new ideas and dialogue on international developments and Australia’s role in the world.

For more information, contact:
Dr Andrew Butcher
Director, Research and Policy
Asia New Zealand Foundation
021 914 321

Last updated: 29 Jan 2013