Can we see the people of Asian nations in the same way that they see themselves? Can we objectively see ourselves in the same way that they see us? And most importantly, do we have an understanding of how they see and relate to each to other?
I'm an Australian and Australia has a relatively clear line of British colonial history but that makes it all the more important that we Australians study and untangle the often confusing web of intra-Asian relationships that have been the hallmark of the region since 1945. We should not allow ourselves to be lulled into a false dichotomy of “East” and “West” in order to explain our connections and interactions.
Make it your business to be informed and genuinely interested and over time you will build in your own mind a fascinating tapestry of insight and organic understanding of how the various peoples and economies that make up the diverse continent of Asia relate to each other.
This is critical to understanding not only why things are the way they are today but to imagining the possibilities of tomorrow.
From my local perspective (although I am in the middle of relocating back to Japan) as Australian companies try to integrate themselves more closely into Asia, they need to be part of regional solutions to local problems. Possibly even create those solutions.
Understanding how Asians see us, and how they see each other will help us to look beyond the obvious to partnerships of unlikely bedfellows where even greater value may be extracted. National profile, historical track record, political and economic influence on local decision-making and cultural approach to decision-making and trouble-shooting can all be leveraged to create value, in addition to what each party is contributing to the deal itself.
As we look at the big picture, it is clear the rising power of China, the continuing formidable role of Japan, the strategic presence of the United States and the ambitions of other large powers notably India and Indonesia will all play a role in regional dynamics.
The entire region will be affected by these dynamics, and so a basic geopolitical understanding will be critical for the business decisions you make. But we Australians start off on a good basis - Australia is a trusted friend in most countries, and nowhere is it considered a threat to anyone’s interests.
Australia’s future in Asia began long ago. If we are to build on our diverse relationships across the region and move forward, history should serve as a good signpost for which roads to take. While this is true for Australia the broad lessons are true for anyone wanting to engage with "Asia".
Elizabeth Masamune is Managing Director of @Asia Associates, and a former Senior Australian Trade Commissioner for Austrade in North and South East Asia. She has spent over 25 years living and working in Asia.