Free Custom «Australia's Role as a Middle Power in the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific Region» Essay Paper

Free Custom «Australia's Role as a Middle Power in the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific Region» Essay Paper

In the modern world, the prominence of the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions has grown significantly. Their role in the world economic processes and international relations is steadily increasing. First of all, this is due to the extraordinary rates of economic development that have been witnessed in the last decades of the 20th century. Also, regardless of the global financial and economic crisis, the same situation has been observed at the beginning of the 21st century. Today, the countries of the Asia-Pacific region account for more than a half of the world’s gross product. This rate was achieved due to the prominent role of Australia in the global economic relations. Secondly, the political, economic and cultural cooperation in these regions has significantly intensified, both in bilateral format and within the framework of various regional and sub-regional associations. Australia herein is among the most active participants in the integration processes, which has been recently gaining momentum in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions. This is understandable as it were the Australian politicians, scientists and entrepreneurs who played an important role in the formation of the integration cooperation in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions. They meaningfully influenced the course of creation, and definition of the forms and methods of work of many influential regional organizations such as APEC. It should be emphasized that the attempts to create regional organizations in Asia and the Pacific basin had been taking place for many years after the end of the Second World War. However, in most cases they amounted to the creation of blocs and groupings for narrow military and political purposes, which reflected the realities of the bipolar world. Therefore, Australia’s role as a middle power has increasing significance in the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific regions due to the country’s resources and successful cooperation with the respective organizations and associations within the region.

The Background of Australia’s Participation in Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific Regions

High rates of economic development of certain countries in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions along with the significant expansion of trade and economic relations between them have led to the formation of ideas about the establishment of regional economic groupings in Asia and the Pacific region. Along with this, there have been some other reasons since the early 1960s. Herein, Australia was able not only to restore the war-ravaged economy, but also to occupy the second place in the capitalist world in terms of the gross national product for the shortest period in history. It contained a proposal to hold a governmental meeting of the Asian leaders and some from the West (such as the USA and Canada). It was assumed that in the course of work, the issues of the establishment of relations in the field of economy and culture, and prospects for expanding the cooperation with the Pacific countries could be discussed. In November 1965, Australian private organization, the Center for Economic Research, created a report entitled “The Pacific Common Market and South-East Asia”. It proposed the creation of a Pacific Free Trade Area. The participants in this area were to become the five strongest economies in the region at the initial stage. Subsequently, it was planned to expand the composition at the expense of developing countries. The representatives of Australia, similarly to their New Zealand counterparts, made additional efforts to improve the situation. They feared that the abolition of customs barriers within the proposed trade zone would lead to Japan receiving unilateral benefits.

In the second half of the 1960s, the idea of ​​creating a single regional economic organization, the Pacific Community was generated. At the same time, the leading positions in the development of the concept and measures to implement it from the very beginning belonged to the political leaders, scientists and businessmen of Australia. This was due to the fact that, given the serious economic and socio-political changes that occurred in the two decades after the end of World War II, marked by the increase in the volume of regional trade, it was Australia that was primarily interested in strengthening their economic positions in the region. Political ambitions played a significant role in this respect. After all, the country claimed leadership in solving a set of regional political problems in Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions. The scientists began to work in this direction, and their work was later supported by government agencies, and subsequently the entrepreneurs from Australia. This approach helped Australia to become more valuable for the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions; however, the country still occupied the position of the ‘middle power’.

Notwithstanding the fact that in the first years of work of the respective organizations in Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions, the purely economic nature of the organizations was demonstratively emphasized, while the main spheres of work were focused on cooperation in the field of international trade. Also, these areas covered the technological development and the creation of a highly developed infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions. Hence, the regions’ participants gradually realized the need for raising the level of political negotiations. Subsequently, in the framework of APEC’s work, meetings of the heads of state and government acquired a regular character. Plans for cooperation in such areas as nuclear power, hydroelectric power, etc. began to be elaborated. The membership of the organizations in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions was expanded, and Australia took an active part in their activities. Being a ‘middle power’ Australia gradually stimulated the growth of its significance in both regions.

Australia as a ‘Middle Power’ in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific Regions

Being the main ideological inspirer of the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions for many years, Australia has been implementing its plans to retrieve benefits. Efforts of the Australian researchers with the support of official and non-governmental organizations of the two regions resulted in the major developments within the framework of this project. For Australia, it was, first of all, an opportunity to realize itself as a strong and influential actor in the field of regional economy, expand and strengthen its positions in the markets of the dynamically developing region. In addition to this, such an initiative for Australia has been associated with a significant breakthrough in the history of foreign policy. Having shown activity in the field of regional policy, the Australian leaders not only applied for full-fledged participation of their country in the cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, but also declared their readiness to assume a leading role. However, it is necessary to note that the country preferred to stay in shadow to some extent. The governors of Australia were aware of the fact that if the country is a ‘middle power’ in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions, it will be able to occupy higher positions in the course of time.

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One of the phenomena of the Asia-Pacific economic integration is the existence of soft integration schemes that have manifested themselves in the formation of economic growth zones in Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions. The fundamental difference between Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions’ organizations and other regional and international structures is the approach to trade and investment liberalization on a voluntary and non-reciprocal basis. Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions do not tie the member countries with mutual obligations to reduce trade restrictions and harmonize the rules. The first results of voluntary liberalization can be regarded as successful taking into account non-reciprocity and voluntariness of the approach, although it is rather modest (in scale). Such a method was originally suggested by Australia and was progressively executed. It served as a beneficial tool for the positioning of Australia as a ‘middle power’ in Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions.

It is worth saying that the position of Australia has specific features that have a positive effect on its positioning as a potential leader in the region. It so happened that the country has close cultural and linguistic connections with Western civilization, largely due to its former metropolis – Great Britain. Based on this fact, the Australian foreign policy course on the major issues corresponds to that of the majority of European states. However, geographically the region is located in Asia, and this geographical location determines the direction of economic development and facilitates the establishment of strong trade cooperation with its neighbors in the region. A special position of Australia is that it has no other alternative but to be an activist at the global and regional levels remaining in this case a ‘middle power’.

The commitment of the Asian states to the modernization processes has opened up new opportunities for Australia to become a reliable provider of resources and related goods and services in the region and the world at large. Australia owns the reserves of uranium and iron ore, and is also the largest exporter of hard coal. The development of the extractive industry was favored by the emergence of new large sales markets on the territory of the Asia-Pacific Region, primarily China and India. At present, the key tasks in the foreign policy strategy of Australia in Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions are the following. Firstly, this is the preservation of peaceful existence in the region. Secondly, the policy is aimed at ensuring the security of its own territories and stability in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions. Thirdly, the task is to create conditions for expanding free trade relations. Each of these aspects is significant as it helps Australia to remain a ‘middle power’ in Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions and gradually increase its significance. Another important point is the provision of assistance to the Pacific countries on their way to economic prosperity and stability. Australia actively participates in the international programs aimed to provide assistance to the developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

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The Growth of Australia’ Significance in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific Regions

Such issues as the rapid growth of Australia’s influence both in the region and abroad, success in the economic sphere, and also, the provision of claims to certain territories force the Pacific states to increase their military power. Changing the regional environment encourages states to look for institutions that will include the leading countries of the Asia-Pacific region to support cooperation, and avoid potentially dangerous rivalries and conflicts. Canberra is a supporter of the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and therefore pays special attention to the cooperation with regional partners through multilateral institutions and organizations, regional forums and bilateral contacts. It seeks to play an active role in the existing regional groupings such as ASEAN, APEC and the East Asia Summit, operating with the purpose of creating a new regional architecture that will meet the needs of the region and ensure a peaceful future.

Evidently, if Australia claims leadership in the region, establishes the priorities of its foreign policy strategy, and provides assistance to other countries to ensure stability in the Asia-Pacific region, then it needs a strong rear in the form of an army and a navy. Indeed, every year military spending increases, but at the same time the basis of the military power in Australia is a strong alliance with the United States. The Australian Defense Review of 2014 clearly identifies the division of powers between Canberra and Washington. The main focus is placed on the military agreement with Washington, which involves protecting Australia in the event of any external threat. A definite position in the South Pacific is administered by Australia. Its influence includes such regions as New Zealand, East Timor and Papua New Guinea. In this case, it reserves the right to make independent decisions on the implementation of peacekeeping and rescue missions. In addition, the scope of actions taken by Australian troops includes the protection of commercial sea lanes from pirate attacks, the fight against transnational crime and ensuring the security of the information space. At the same time, the security of the region as a whole and Australia in particular remains the priority of the United States. The Armed Forces of Australia, for the most part, are assigned with the function of supporting the main American forces through participation in joint operations.

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All of the above actions of the Australian government evidently affect some countries of the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions. However, not everyone likes them. A number of countries have fears that the assistance is designed to acquire Australia’s controlled territories, making an attempt to return to the colonial past when Papua New Guinea was under its leadership. To some extent, the financial assistance offered by Australia is similar to the Marshall Plan in terms of raising the economies of European countries. Therefore, this assistance is necessary for the countries in the region, while the Australian government pursues geopolitical goals. On the other hand, not all countries, for example, in the Southeast Asia, trust Canberra due to its dependence on the United States.

Australia’s relations with Indonesia are still cool after the scandal surrounding the eavesdropping by Australian intelligence agencies of the state leaders. In addition, Jakarta cannot forgive the intervention of the armed forces of the Australian Union into the conflict in East Timor and the acquisition of independence by the state. Close cooperation with Washington can lead to a decrease in the prestige of Australia among the neighboring states. However, there is a different opinion amid the Australian management, which suggests that the adjacent bonds with the United States are a positive side, but not a disadvantage, and the reoccurrence of the United States to the Asia-Pacific region is observed as a significant factor in the peaceful improvement of the region.

It is not yet possible to say for sure that Australia is one of the leaders of the Asia-Pacific region, although it has a number of opportunities to realize its potential through gradual increase of its significance. Speaking of its specific role at the moment, it functions as a mediator between the Southeast Asian countries and the global world arena. Australia, on the one hand, acts as a defender of the interests of its neighbors and seeks to strengthen relations with them; on the other hand, it considers them as territories of strategic and economic interest, and often does not take into account their opinion. Thus, it demonstrates its superiority over them, which leads to a decreased level of trust and loss of credibility. If Canberra plans to take a significant place in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions, it needs to better understand the problems of the region.

The evolving process of the new Asian regionalism was based on practical considerations and in fact was the answer to the challenges of globalization. Initially, it was carried out without clearly defined goals. Moreover, on a number of issues, consensus was unlikely to be reached between the participants. In this regard, it is possible to state that the most significant political imperative that contributed to the strengthening of cooperation in Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions was the desire to improve regional relations, and achieve lasting peace, stability and prosperity in the region, and not the desire to create a clearly structured regional organization. Experts note that the geopolitical landscape of Greater East Asia is gradually acquiring new outlines, and the current integration processes are capable of radically changing the face of the whole region.

The countries in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions subsequently managed to overcome the objective difficulties on the way to economic integration, and some of them even managed to turn them to their advantages. For example, the same structure of exports contributed to the consolidation in negotiations with Western partners, which strengthened the positions of both the group itself and its individual participants. The countries in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions are characterized by tropical agriculture and occupy a leading place in the world production and export of palm and coconut oil, natural rubber and latex, as well as tin and chrome ore. Their role in the extraction and export of copper, nickel, bauxite, oil and gas, sugar, rice, tropical fruits, the production of electronic components, and household appliances along with the light industry products is increasing.

Thus, the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions, despite the uneven economic development of many local countries, are actively developing and participating in direct investment flows with clear prospects for development in the future. The regions combine the features of closed regionalism (ASEAN) added with a desire of the countries to achieve open regionalism (APEC). Such a combination plays an important role in the development of the region, contributes to strengthening of ties between countries within the region, and strengthens its influence on the world economic arena. Among the features of the development of international economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region, one can also highlight the application of mild forms of integration (in particular, in APEC) and admission of different levels of integration, establishing the priority of subregional integration over the regional one.

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Despite the fact that some problems remain unsolved (although some positive changes can be observed), it is obvious that there are no grounds for concluding that the activity in relations between Australia and the European Union is declining, or marked by the reduction of the areas of cooperation or the decreasing interest of Australians towards Europe. At the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century, Australia is gradually expanding the areas of cooperation with the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions. It also makes attempts to minimize the negative effect of objective factors affecting the development of bilateral relations between Australia and the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions.



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