Ethno-religious tensions, maritime territorial disputes and countries falling in the middle-income trap are the three primary concerns that Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has for present-day Asia.
Expanding on his anxieties about the region at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Minister Carr cited the ethnic and religious tensions in Myanmar as an example, adding that Australia has deep concerns about the Rohingya population in the country. While the world is learning more about Myanmar, Carr considers it important to strike a balance between the positive steps taken toward its democratic development and the tensions between different religious groups. “We form a view that the progress of Myanmar was irreversible,” says Carr, and encourages its government to find a way forward. “We don’t want to nag a government who has made extraordinary progress on this,” he adds.
On the topic of maritime territorial disputes, the minister asserted that Australia takes no sides in the competing claims. However, he urged the affected nations to resolve the flare-ups by adhering to international laws. He commented, “We urge restraint and we encourage the development of the code of conduct in the South China Sea.” He added there is much to be gained by these nations in a peaceful resolution of the issue, particularly in the South China Sea. Australia, he said, gently encourages non-governmental discussions and an open dialogue to see how the nations can edge forward on this.
The third predicament that Minister Carr sees in Asia is how some countries are having trouble initiating economic reform and struggling to deal with governance problems. This in effect hinders development progress and traps countries into a middle-income status, and Carr stressed this is a threat to economic and social improvement in Asia. He noted, however, that following the post-war triumph over Japan Australia has witnessed spectacular trajectories of nations like South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. “The challenges are just possibly retarding the completion of this trajectory for some of these nations.”
This is originally published on Asia Society Hong Kong Center’s blog.