“Asia’s rise is the opportunity of this century,” said Julia Gillard, Australian prime minister from 2010 to 2013, during the 90th Stephen A. Ogden Jr. ’60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs Wednesday. Attendees of the talk nearly filled the DeCiccio Family Auditorium in the Salomon Center, a venue capable of seating about 600 people.
Gillard deemed China’s growth “industrialization at warp speed,” noting that China’s economy has expanded 20-fold over the past 25 years.
China is not the only country that is growing — so are Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan and India, she said. “In combination, the rapid changes across Asia mean that in a few years’ time, (the Eastern Pacific) will be home to the world’s most sizable middle class, bigger than that of the rest of the world combined — North America and Europe included.”
“When I was growing up, Asia was viewed as a place of poverty,” Gillard said, adding that Australia has historically looked past Asia to its traditional markets in Europe and America.
But as Asia has grown, Australia’s attention has shifted to developing markets and cities on the nearby continent, she said.
“You don’t build cities without commodities. Australia’s iron ore and coking coal are essential to the construction of Chinese apartments, rail lines and factories,” she said.
Australia’s top two exports are just that — coal and iron — but the country will continue its recent efforts to diversify its economy, Gillard told The Herald in an interview before the talk.
“The third biggest export from Australia is international education. That is predominantly students from our region of the world coming and studying in Australian universities,” she told The Herald.
While Australia was once a large-scale manufacturer, the comparative wage rates of surrounding countries have forced it to scale down its plants, Gillard told The Herald. But Australia has recently seen the rise of “very elite, elaborately transformed” manufacturers, particularly in the mining industry, she added.
Asia’s emerging middle class will also look to Australia for healthcare, elderly care and innovations in science and medicine, Gillard said.
“Australia therefore is no longer an old economy and no longer subject to the ‘tyranny of distance’ either,” she added. The Economist has reported that Australia benefits from “the advantage of adjacency” in its push to be considered in conjunction with Asia, Gillard said.
Yet it can be hard to picture Australia as an Asian nation given that its culture, rules and social organization reflect Western values, said Richard Boucher, diplomat in residence at the Watson Institute for International Studies.
Gillard told The Herald she believes that now, more than ever before, Australians are accepting their place as an Asian nation.
“Whilst it’s true we’ve got the Westminster system of government that is speaking to our United Kingdom roots, we have an incredibly multicultural society,” Gillard told The Herald. “The two biggest migrant intake groups (to Australia) now are people from China and people from India,” she added.
As Asia grows, Americans must consider their position in the global marketplace, Gillard said. “How depressed should Americans be about being future total GDP second place-getters?” Gillard quipped.
Not at all depressed, she said in response. “Asia’s rise means the innovative, resilient, entrepreneurial U.S. economy can be a beneficiary of resulting economic growth,” she said.
“There’s a lot of policy dialogue in Australia that our relationships with the U.S. and China are a zero-sum game — you can’t strengthen one without weakening the other,” Gillard told The Herald. “I don’t believe that to be true, and I’ve never believed that to be true. When I was prime minister, we took a step forward in our alliance with the U.S. … At the same time we secured new diplomatic architecture with China.”
Gillard said the Obama administration has understood the importance of engaging in conversation about Asia ever since September 2013, when the president was forced to remain in Washington to focus on the gridlock in Congress rather than attend the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
“Has the entire American political system learned from this event that the cost of hyper partisanship at home can be measured in lost prestige abroad?” she asked.
“Winning in Asia has to be fought for — not lethargically assumed,” she said, but “it can be done by many nations and businesses around our planet.”
Nations will only come out winners in this race if they are their most productive, which can only happen if they educate the masses to be “Asia-capable, Asia-literate and Asia-oriented,” she said.
“For the first time in human history, it is in our grasp to ensure every child of the world is educated,” she said.
“I am a big supporter of education with its potential to improve developing parts of the world and the conditions of the people who live there,” Sarah Novicoff ’18, a Herald staff writer said during the question-and-answer session. “The problem I see is there seems to be a trade-off of the short-term need for emergency aid and the long-term need of education, which will ultimately do more. In the short term it’s very hard to ignore those conflicts,” she added.
“I thought she gave valuable insight into what it means to have the Asian economy growing in the way it is,” said Andrew Vann ’17. “As an international student, my experience so far has been very U.S.-centric. But still, it was nice to have a look at what development in other parts of the world meant and particularly in the framework of education.”
Education can also inspire social transformation toward a more “gender-just” culture, Gillard said. As Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, Gillard has experienced discrimination within the country’s political system, she told The Herald.
Gillard told The Herald that people are more likely to give her elaborate consideration because of her status as a woman. “People say to you things like, ‘It must be so hard for you to be prime minister and to make these big decisions.’ It’s meant with goodwill but is ultimately quite patronizing of our capabilities,” she added. Her gender identity has also been used as a “weapon in political conflict.”
“Dreadfully sexist things are said and done to demean your status as a leader. I still think that all around the world we’re still striving for the time that women leaders are just accepted and judged solely on the basis of their leadership capacity rather than anything to do with their gender or family status or appearance,” she told The Herald.