Asia Paper narrative not new, still no progress

Professor Edmond Fung, from the UWS School of Humanities and Communication Arts, responds to the Federal Government's Asia Century White Paper

I welcome the White Paper, as it is certainly it is a step in the right direction, as many have noted. But the narrative is not new. Much of it has been said many times before. Manifestly, the vision, articulated time and again by previous Labor governments, has not been achieved. We need only to note that, despite the emphasis on Asian literacy and language learning, only 10% of NSW public school students are learning Asian languages. Why should we think it is going to be significantly different this time?  

The White Paper is long on goals and aspirations and short on detail and funding. Worse, it has done nothing to change the Eurocentric culture of the broad Australian population. Without a cultural change, few parents of European stock would encourage their sons and daughters to learn Asian languages in schools and about Asia at universities. Even if students do, many would take Asian Studies as electives just to meet their degree requirements. And without a cultural change, Asian Studies will always play second fiddle to European Studies, for example, as demonstrated by enrolments in all History Departments at universities around Australia.

As before, this latest initiative of the Labor government is driven by economic considerations, that is, how best Australia is to benefit from the rise of Asia? It has shown little appreciation of the importance of the nations of Asian in their own rights. The stress on doing business with Asia is not accompanied by a message that Australians can learn much from the peoples of Asia, from their histories, cultures, philosophies and values. The White Paper makes it perfectly clear that Australia's best friend and ally remains the United States, which is saying "We belong to the Anglo-American world first, and engage with Asia second."
There is a danger that rhetoric becomes a substitute for action. Funding cuts to universities do not bode well. How can teaching about Asia be more effective when lectures and tutorials are reduced in length and online lectures increasingly replace face-to-face contacts? How can Asian languages be well taught in schools where there is a shortage of quality language teachers?  Is the government going to prioritise teacher's training in this regard?