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Platforms for doing well – and helping others to do well – in the Asian Century. Open Letter to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key

China's Premier Wen Jiabao (L) and New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key (R) show the way to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a group photo at the 5th East Asia Summit in Hanoi October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Rungroj Yongrit/Pool (VIETNAM - Tags: POLITICS)

Photo: New Zealand Prime Minister John Key mixing with his Indian and Chinese counterparts at the 2010 East Asian Summit. At the 2012 summit John Key said:

…umltimately, New Zealand will align with Asia…. Geographically, it wouldn’t be the United States. It’s clear we are part of the Asian region, part of the Asian century

[Update: this blog was written when Julia Gillard’s Labour government published a white paper on “Australia in the Asian Century”. This presented in effect a very forward-looking inventory of technologies that were – and could be considerably more – utilised by Australians to help relate much more effectively to Asia. The succeeding Abbott government seems to have shown less interest in following up – but what the Gillard government produced remains invaluable documentation of what a progressive, ICT-supported paradigm could look like.]


Dear Prime Minister John Key

When you announced at the East Asian Summit (November, 2012) that New Zealand’s future alignment

“wouldn’t be Europe. Geographically, it wouldn’t be the United States. It’s clear we are part of the Asian region, part of the Asian century”

you in effect marked a historical transition from a past that was tied, culturally and economically, to Anglo-Saxon apron strings.

New platforms to build intercultural competencies

New Zealanders now face the challenge of doing well, and helping others to do well, as an integral part of Asian region.

How can they best succeed in this?

Julia Gillard’s Australian government has made a significant step to equip her country to succeed with its white paper, Australia in the Asian Century.

Every page of this paper assumes and illustrates how connection-building and intercultural competencies are essential pre-requisites for success in the Asian century. The document takes stock of Australia’s resources for creating what it calls “Asia capabilities”.

In this letter I will indicate some ways in which I think New Zealand could take a lead by adopting some new regional connection-building platforms – platforms that support connecting to Asia as well as adding value to flows between Asia and other parts of the region.

But first some basic historical background to help clarify New Zealand’s new challenges.

From connecting well with Britain to connecting well with Asia?

Until 1973 New Zealand benefited from taken-for-granted historical, cultural and economic connections with a “Mother England” that took all the agricultural produce it could send.

With the overseas surpluses generated by exports to Britain, New Zealanders were able to enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world.

However, in 1973 New Zealand’s favourable access was terminated when Britain entered the European Community.

Apart from Australia there were no more similarly English speaking, accessible, high-earning markets to be found. Although Asia was becoming increasingly prosperous, its tastes were not Anglo Saxon ones. Getting top dollar/yen/yuan products into Asian markets required intensive intercultural networking, which required new linguistic and cultural competencies.

In these difficult circumstances, New Zealand’s overseas income no longer covered the cost of its imports.

So New Zealand began borrowing, year on year, to maintain the standard of living to which it had become accustomed. Its overseas debt figures tell the story. Since 1973 New Zealand has accumulated some $150 billion in external debt. Now also, with the global financial crisis, the government is itself borrowing something like $300 million a week from overseas to cover its expenses.

New Zealand, alongside many other nations impacted on by the global financial crisis, face challenges in doing well enough financially in Asia to cover overseas debt repayment, new investment, and a decent standard of living for all.

Communications platforms to build Asian Century connections

As Albert Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

New thinking, policy decisions and education about intercultural connection-building will be needed to meet the new challenges. As the Australian white paper begins to demonstrate, such connection building is needed from local community through to national, and wider, Asia-Pacific regional levels.

Follow Australia, or lead?

In New Zealand Philip Burdon, the chairman of the Asia-New Zealand Foundation, recommends that New Zealand follow the Australian lead on its Asian initiatives in order not to be left behind.

I believe New Zealand could develop even more effective platforms for international connection by adopting a more focused and systematic approach to both local and international connection-building than the Australians have so far countenanced.

New social and technological platforms

With contemporary communications technology, people can network to collaborate from local through to metropolitan, national and international levels from ultimately local, community-based platforms. Such platforms could usefully involve:

  • Communities using locally-focused social media to create locally shared platforms for building connections and fostering collaboration across their diversities
  • Each local area also creating platforms for peer-to-peer connection-building with counterparts in sister cities/areas elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region. These peer connections would encompass civic, educational, economic, media and other organizations

As I see it, a given New Zealand locality could situate itself to offer much more if it connected not only with an Asian locality, but also with another in the United States and yet another in a developing nation/Pacific Island locality. New Zealand localities that developed such platforms could function as value-adding hubs between Asia, the United States, and the Pacific Islands.

These connections could support all manner of purposes, projects, and relevant skill development – commercial, ecological, cultural … Needless to say, the kinds of platforms developed in the Asia-Pacific region could readily be extended to other regions once people experienced how to make them work. The focused approach proposed here could be seen as setting up a learning laboratory for more effective regional, and ultimately global, connection-building virtually anywhere.

An enduring legacy to create?

As a New Zealand leader who relates comfortably to other leaders in the Asia Pacific region, you provide a public model and an inspiration for intercultural connection building.

However, for New Zealand to succeed in engaging in mutually beneficial connection-building in the Asian century more than just a leader, a sprinkling of officials and innovative entrepreneurs are needed – needed is pervasive, structurally-based culture change, change that works in both top-down and bottom-up directions.

You have recognized New Zealand’s future as being aligned with Asia in an Asian Century. I’d like to put it to you that at this time of important historical transition you have an opportunity to leave an enduring legacy that could involve:

1. A vision of New Zealanders doing well and helping others to do well in Asia-Pacific region

2. Implementation of an infrastructure that will support the intercultural competency and connection-building needed to make this vision a reality

At Village Connections we try to be both positive and practical, and hence the ideas and proposals in this open letter.

I very much look forward to hearing from you and from anyone who would like to comment, whether they agree or disagree.

Very best wishes

Antipodean Village Blogger

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