Media development in the Asian century

When you look up ‘engagement‘ in Wikipedia, you see that they give top billing to the idea of betrothal – engagement as “a promise to wed” and “the period of time between a marriage proposal and a marriage.”

They recall that, “it was not uncommon for parents betrothing children to arrange marriages many years before the engaged couple were old enough and ready to marry.”

This could be a metaphor for Australia’s relationship with Asia.

We feel somehow that we are engaged, but we know we are not ready, and we don’t know how long the betrothal period will last.

Increasingly, we recognise the need for Australia to be more Asia-capable and Asia-literate, but what is less clear is whether we want to have a full-on relationship.

And does Asia want us, for that matter? We see financial benefit in a union, but are our hearts in it?

In the course of the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre’s (APJC) international development work in Asia, we get to hear from Asian journalists about how they find Australian society.

The feedback from these future opinion leaders is usually very positive, but it also includes elements that could work against the goal of Asian engagement

For example, a “bossy” asylum seeker policy; residual anti-Asian sentiment in everyday life, including in the media; a western/Anglo “superiority” in public discourse; human rights “hypocrisy” over indigenous policy failures and our involvement in Iraq;  and the “exploitative” side of the international student business.

It’s an area worthy of on-going study. If we want a sophisticated engagement with Asia, we need to put more effort into hearing what “Asia” thinks and wants. Any serious betrothal demands this.

At the APJC, we try to do this through cultural exchange programs for Australian journalists.

The journalists who take part in these programs invariably describe them as being “transformational”.

The New Colombo initiative will provide further opportunity to satisfy this thirst for knowledge and experience of Asia.

APJC is very pleased to have the backing of ANZ for a new China-Australia Journalist Exchange. This includes business and economic content, but also seeks to connect more broadly with Chinese society.

We are currently planning a summer school in China for Australian journalists. So, in betrothal terms, you could say that we have declared our heart.

We know that news media, along with the education sector, play an important role in shaping public perceptions of Asia, and in encouraging community support for engagement initiatives.


This is an extract of the speech given by APJC director John Wallace at the inaugural Australia Asia Education Engagement Symposium held in Melbourne on March 31 – April 1, 2014.