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10-08-2015, 23:28

ON THE MARGINS OF ASIA: POSTWAR AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND

Geographically, Australia and New Zealand are not part of Asia, and throughout their short history, both countries have identified themselves culturally and politically with the West rather than with their Asian neighbors. Their political institutions and values are derived from Europe, and the form and content of their economies resemble those of the advanced countries of the world rather than the preindustrial societies of much of Southeast Asia. Both are currently members of the British Commonwealth and of the U.S.-led ANZUS alliance (Australia, New Zealand, and the United States), which serves to shield them from political turmoil elsewhere in the region. Yet trends in recent years have been drawing both states, especially Australia, closer to Asia. In the first place, immigration from East and Southeast Asia has increased rapidly. More than one-half of current immigrants into Australia come from East Asia, and about 7 percent of the population of about eighteen million people is now of Asian descent. In New Zealand, residents of Asian descent represent only about 3 percent of the population of 3.5 million, but about 12 percent of the population are Maoris, Polynesian peoples who settled on the islands about a thousand years ago. Second, trade relations with Asia are increasing rapidly. About 60 percent of Australia’s export markets today are in East Asia, and the region is the source of about one-half of its imports. Asian trade with New Zealand is also on the increase. At the same time, the links that bind both countries to Great Britain and the United States have been loosening. Ties with London became increasingly distant after Great Britain decided to join the European Community in the early 1970s. There are moves under way in Australia and New Zealand to withdraw from the British Commonwealth, although the outcome is far from certain. Security ties with the United States remain important, but many Australians opposed their government’s decision to cooperate with Washington during the Vietnam War, and the government today is seeking to establish closer political and military ties with the ASEAN alliance. Further removed from Asia both physically and psychologically, New Zealand assigns less importance to its security treaty with the United States and has been vocally critical of U.S. nuclear policies in the region. Whether Australia and New Zealand will ever become an integral part of the Asia-Pacific region is uncertain. Cultural differences stemming from the European origins of the majority of the population in both countries hinder mutual understanding on both sides of the divide, and many ASEAN leaders (see Chapter 14) express reluctance to accept the two countries as full members of the alliance. Both countries continue to face problems in bringing about the integration of indigenous peoples— the aborigines and the Maoris—into the general population. But economic and geographic realities act as a powerful force, and should the Pacific region continue on its current course toward economic prosperity and political stability, the role of Australia and New Zealand will assume greater significance.

 

 

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