Asian migration has been an important source of skilled migrants and students for building a prosperous Australia since the launch of the Colombo Plan six decades ago.
A new report launched by Australia’s Chief Scientist on June 5 suggests that skilled migration from Asia and the Pacific is also having a game-changing impact on the nature and intensity of Australia’s relations with the region. Indian-Australian and Chinese-Australian immigrants in particular are helping to integrate Australia with the economies, societies and cultures of the region in ways that were barely imaginable in the past.
The report offers compelling evidence that skilled migrants from India, China and neighbouring countries are increasingly leading Australia’s scientific and cultural relations with the region. They are building pathways for innovation, growth and better understanding between Australia and their homelands.
Building digital and research links
Recent patterns of migration and settlement, bolstered by high levels of digital connectivity, are constantly linking Australia’s universities and lounge rooms with Shanghai and Mumbai.
The links are clearly apparent in research collaboration. Asia is leaping ahead globally in scientific research. Expenditure on research and development in Asia already exceeds that in North America. China is likely to overtake the US as the largest producer of research articles within the decade. India is fast catching up.
The report finds that Australia’s research collaboration with China is largely driven by Australian-based Chinese diaspora researchers. Universities and research organisations could do more to acknowledge and harness the networks that their diaspora researchers are building to extend collaborations more broadly. This would embed Australia further in regional research networks.
Enhancing cultural understanding
Intensive diaspora networks are also framing Australia’s cultural relations with the region. The report highlights a facet of “multiculturalism” often overshadowed by celebrations of cultural diversity within Australia – the increasingly important role that Asian and Pacific Island Australian artists play in representing Australia in their original homelands.
It might surprise many Australians to learn that the performers and artists who entertain them at multicultural festivals during summer offer similar performances in the winter season, as Australians – but in Suva, Manila and Hong Kong.
The report estimates that Australian culture is represented informally in the region through self-funding diaspora artists on a scale comparable to mainstream performers supported by cultural diplomacy programs. Artists and performers capable of relating directly with their homeland communities, through the trusted voices of their own languages and the familiar idioms of local cultural practices, have high media exposure and impact in their countries of origin.
Now that the pathways of scientific and cultural exchange have been established, and Australian communities are increasingly networked across the region, we need to find new ways to ensure that all Australians have access to these pathways so that they can share in the excitement of discovery and creativity.
To do so, more Australians will need to master the languages of the region. In engaging with our neighbours, the report concludes, there is only one thing worse than not knowing English – knowing only English.
Smart engagement with Asia means recognising that Australia’s Asian and Pacific Island communities are opening new pathways for discovery, innovation and cultural understanding, but that relying on them to do all the heavy lifting is not very smart.
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