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Human Capital Matters 2013/4: The Asian Century

Editor’s Note to Readers

Welcome to the fourth edition of Human Capital Matters for 2013—the digest for time poor leaders and practitioners with an interest in human capital and organisational capability. This edition focuses on the implications of the increased involvement in Asia required by the APS as a result of the Government’s ‘Asian Century’ agenda.

The term ‘Asian Century’ was first coined by Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi when they met in 1988. Thinking about the potential impact of the ‘Asian Century’ on Australia’s economic and political future has been increasing steadily since then culminating in the publication of the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ White Paper last year.

This edition of Human Capital Matters includes a paper from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) about the implementation of the White Paper, and in particular the 25 national objectives contained therein. Two pieces by John Lenarcic follow, the first a critique of the White Paper, while the second, written some months before the White Paper argues for the establishment of an institute specific to the study of Asia-related issues in Australia.

Nankervis et al then describe some of the elements contributing to the rise of India and China in economic terms. Helen Sullivan’s paper follows and provides a view on how the Asian Century might influence the shape of the APS and what opportunities this offers for training and professional development for APS employees. The final paper in this edition of Human Capital Matters provides a focussed view on what implications the White Paper holds for the public sector in Australia at the state level with an analysis of the implications of the White Paper for the Tasmanian State government.

The implications for Australia of the Asian Century will be far-reaching. The White Paper addresses many of these issues, but it is not the only document addressing them. The documents contained in this issue of Human Capital Matters provides an overview of a broad sweep of the thinking around how Australia, including the public sector might deal with the ‘Asian Century’.

Happy reading…

About Human Capital Matters

Human Capital Matters seeks to provide APS leaders and practitioners with easy access to the issues of contemporary importance in public and private sector human capital and organisational capability. It has been designed to provide interested readers with a monthly guide to the national and international ideas that are shaping human capital thinking and practice.

Comments and Suggestions Welcome

Thank you to those who took the time to provide feedback on earlier editions of Human Capital Matters. Comments, suggestions or questions regarding this publication are always welcome and should be addressed to: humancapitalmatters [at] apsc.gov.au. Readers can also subscribe to the mailing list through this email address.

Australian Government, Australia in the Asian Century: Implementation Plan(Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet), Canberra, 2013, 30 pp.

The Implementation Plan (the Plan), which was released in April this year, outlines how the 25 key national objectives of the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ White Paper (October 2012) will be implemented. The Implementation Plan document summarises the progress that has been made to date against the White Paper objectives and sets out the implementation arrangements and governance structures that will enable the Australian Government to work with the relevant stakeholders in this process, including State, Territory and local governments, businesses, educational institutions, unions, academics and community groups.

Since last October the Government has taken a number of steps to ensure there will be a coordinated approach to collaborating with stakeholders and citizens in engaging with Asia. The principal governance arrangements for the implementation of the White Paper include:

  • Establishing the Australia in the Asian Century Committee of Cabinet;
  • Appointing the Honourable Dr Craig Emerson as the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy;
  • Establishing the Strategic Advisory Board to provide advice to the Prime Minister and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy on the implementation of the White Paper;
  • Establishing the Deputy Secretaries Steering Committee to provide direction and guidance across all Australian Government agencies on the implementation of White Paper outcomes; and
  • Establishing the Australia in the Asian Century Implementation Taskforce, based in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to support the implementation of the White Paper across Government.

The Plan is wide-ranging and detailed. In relation to expectations and responsibilities of the APS, it refers to the APS Asia Capability Strategy being developed jointly by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Public Service Commission, which will be released later this year. The Plan also sets out the timeline for implementation of the White Paper in three stages to 2025. The first stage (2013) will see the Government promoting, facilitating and leading discussion about how Australia can best prepare for the rise of Asia across all sectors. The second stage (2014–2018) will concentrate on building deeper understanding and relationships in the region as well as broader economic integration and connectivity. In stage three (2019–2025) the focus will be on ensuring that Australia becomes a full part of the region, across all levels of society, business, government, and the community.

Assessment of progress will be a central element in the implementation process. The Plan makes clear that monitoring and reporting arrangements will be put in place to ensure that timely and accurate information regarding the pace of implementation is provided to the Prime Minister, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy, the Cabinet, and the Strategic Advisory Board. In addition to this regular reporting, further evaluation tools will be devised to define measures of success and ensure agencies are well-placed to report to Government on progress on outcomes. This reporting is expected to begin in the medium-term, as data on the impact of White Paper initiatives become available. It will be led by members of the Deputy Secretaries Steering Committee.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Australia in the Asian Century Implementation Unit has responsibility for coordinating the Australia in the Asian Century initiative.

John Lenarcic, ‘Asian Century White Paper’, ‘The Conversation’, 28 October 2012.

Dr Lenarcic argues that the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ White Paper (October 2012) contains few proposals for specific large-scale initiatives designed to improve engagement with Asian nations at the government-to-government or person-to-person levels. The term, ‘culture’, for instance, although it figures frequently in the White Paper, is not sufficiently well-defined to enable it to be used as a basis for innovative new approaches to enhancing Asia-Australia relations. Accordingly, he calls for the development of ‘dedicated schemes’ designed to address the diversity of philosophical outlooks that may (certainly do?) exist in Asian communities which are often in contrast to Australian norms of interacting. As he concludes, ‘Learning the mechanics of languages is one thing but learning to think in another culture is another matter entirely.’

John Lenarcic is Lecturer in Business IT and Logistics at the RMIT University, Melbourne.

John Lenarcic, ‘Why Australia Needs an Asian Century Institute, ‘The Conversation’, 18 April 2012.

Writing six months before the release of the Australian Government’s ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ White Paper in October 2012, the author advocates the establishment of an Asian Century Institute as ‘a pan-cultural resource centre for the public’ with a clear focus on ethnic, artistic and cultural knowledge and awareness enhancement—one not the preserve of specialists but an institution they would share with all interested members of the Australian community. Such an initiative, he argues, would balance the current primary focus on trade and national security considerations with one on ‘ethics and aesthetics’. The Institute would offer seminars and workshops in Asian visual and performing arts, music, languages, mythology and folklore, cuisine and literature. The classical Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Persian and Arabic cultures would be among the many represented. Eastern religion would also be represented in the form of excursions into Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and others. A specific case in point in this context would be Eastern martial arts, which are as much concerned with philosophy, through their examination of aspects of human agency and self-control, than they are with self-defence. In incorporating these into its curriculum, the proposed Asian Century Institute could offer courses on, for example, ‘Better Business through Aikido’, studies of the latter having shown that Aikido provides a systems-based approach that can augment conventional mediation strategies.

The author proffers a number of suggestions regarding the location of such a body: not in the middle of a capital city/capital cities but in the suburbs where it is likely to be less intimidating to individuals and not perceived as yet another monolithic study and research institution; as an annexe to selected public libraries around Australia (an argument which vitiates the author’s anti-central location approach); or, alternatively, re-imagining the Institute as an entity that is more fragmented in structure, mirroring the cultural concept that is Asia itself. Dr Lenarcic sees the binding factor linking these physical nodes as being dedicated social media, which would enable online discussions across geographic distances. Although aimed at individuals, the public sector and business could also access its resources and enhance people-to-people communication throughout the Asian hemisphere.

John Lenarcic is Lecturer in Business IT and Logistics at the RMIT University, Melbourne.

Alan R. Nankervis, Fang Lee Cooke, Samir R. Chatterjee & Malcolm Warner, ‘The Asian Century: The Shift of Global Economic Power to China and India’, in their New Models of Human Resource Management in China and India, Routledge, London, 2013, pp. 1–27 (Australian Public Service Commission Library).

Professor Nankervis and his fellow authors take a broad-ranging view of the historical development of India and China in accounting for the recent emergence of these countries as economic powers. They subscribe (with some reservations) to W. Dalrymple’s argument (Time Magazine, 2 August 2007, quoted in the book, pp. 1–3) that it was colonialism which derailed their ascendancy to the first rank of global nations during the 1800s and 1900s. They also note that in the early 1800s the two countries contributed nearly half of the world’s income, and that, in fact, traditionally for centuries Asia had been the world’s richest region. For the authors, however, explaining today’s rise and speculating about its likely future implications requires much more rigorous forms of historical and economic inquiry than in the past because ‘the present global economic environment is far more complex and interconnected than in earlier periods’ (p. 2). But they agree with Dalrymple that the current rise of India and China appears to represent a re-emergence of these countries as major economic powers, not only in the Asian region, but globally.

The authors’ focus is on innovation in human resources management in India and China; more broadly the chapter and the book deal with the following key themes:

  • · the diffusion of macro level strategies to enterprise levels in India and China;
  • · the re-emergence of India and China in the context of the recent Global Financial Crisis (GFC);
  • · a strategic focus on bilateral collaboration, linking one-third of the world’s population and a quarter of the world’s talent;
  • · future Indian and Chinese collaboration through human resource development and research and development; and
  • · trust and learning as the bases for cooperation in building new industries and innovative capacities.

As well as presenting up-to-date information and analysis on developments in public and private sector human resources management in both countries, the book serves another valuable purpose for APS staff engaging with India and China and scholars and commentators in the field. The comparative approach employed throughout the book provides a useful means of assessing the relative importance and likely future growth of both countries and their significance for nations such as Australia. Some of their conclusions illustrate this well:

  • ‘India and China have followed divergent growth strategies. China has adopted a “top to bottom strategy”, combining large scale FDI [foreign direct investment], mass manufacturing and impressive government infrastructural initiatives. In contrast, India’s recipe has been much more organic and driven mainly by the private sector’ (pp. 24–25).
  • ‘China will likely be the dominant partner in any conceivable strategic partnership [between China and India]. China has arguably greater geopolitical reach than India on account of its WTO [World Trade Organisation] membership and broader direct penetration of global markets … On the other hand, India’s democratic traditions and post-colonial global connections; together with its IT, “trade in services”, English language expertise, and its transparent banking and labour market protection legislation, make it attractive to both local and international investors. In addition, India’s technological prowess is highly valued, although there are signs that China is rapidly catching up’ (p. 25).

Alan R. Nankervis is Adjunct Professor of Human Resource Management at Curtin Business School, Western Australia; Fang Lee Cooke is Professor of Human Resource Management and Chinese Studies at Monash University; Samir R. Chatterjee is a Professor at Curtin Business School, Western Australia; and Malcolm Warner is Professor and Fellow Emeritus at Wolfson College and Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, UK.

Helen Sullivan, ‘Looking to Asia to Reform Australia’s Public Service’, ‘The Conversation’, 23 November 2012.

Professor Sullivan analyses what the ‘Asian Century’ will mean for Australian public administration. She begins by observing that this is not usually the first question that comes to people’s minds when they ponder the implications of the shift in economic and political power from West to East. But she adds that it is a more important question than it sounds. For this reason, the authors of the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ White Paper proposed that by 2025, a third of the senior leadership of the APS will need to have a trenchant knowledge of Asia. The author acknowledges that this will require a new approach to the continuing professional development of APS staff, including building in opportunities to study and work across Asia as a matter of course. She sees this as a significant practical and cultural challenge for a country more accustomed to receiving study delegations from Asian countries than in sending them. Professor Sullivan also notes that closer attention will have to be paid to the content of public education so that all potential APS employees have a much better grounding in Asian languages, histories and cultures than has hitherto been the case.

However, she emphasises that this does not stop at language teaching. Deepening Australian public servants’ understanding of the traditions and practices that inform Asian systems of public administration could also prove to be an important mechanism for understanding how Asian cultures approach problem solving and negotiation. This in turn may lead to an exchange of ideas about the nature of public administration itself in Australia and elsewhere in Asia, how it is organised and the respective roles in it of politicians, public servants and citizens. Increasing numbers of Asian scholars (and senior public service practitioners) are becoming concerned about the repeated integration of Western ‘new public management’ conceptions of public administration into Asian societies largely on the basis that this is how such discourse and practice has been conducted for so long; and also because many senior Asian public service leaders continue to be educated in the West and on returning to run their home public services perpetuate Anglo-Saxon ideas and norms into Asian countries regardless of their unique cultural, political and societal backgrounds.

In order to address this situation, the author draws on her research across Europe, South America, Africa and Asia, which found considerable variation in public management approaches due to local contextual factors. This included long-standing public service traditions (e.g. the role of Confucianism in shaping conceptions of merit, service and hierarchy in Asian—especially Chinese—public administration). Accordingly, Professor Sullivan concludes that public administration is as likely to be greatly affected by the ‘Asian Century’ as business and civil society, and that because of this the APS and its employees must seek to understand all influences on the Asian-Australian relationship.

The author is Professor and Director of the Centre for Public Policy at the University of Melbourne.

Tasmanian Government, Tasmania’s Place in the Asian Century White Paper, Tasmanian Government (Department of Premier and Cabinet), Hobart, 2013, 45 pp.

This report was published in March 2013. Tasmania is Australia’s only state or territory to commission an analysis of the implications of the Australian Government’s ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ initiative for its future development. The Tasmanian White Paper, which leverages off the work done by the authors of the Australian Government’s ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ White Paper (October 2012), establishes the policy framework that will shape the Tasmanian Government’s efforts to support the state’s engagement with Asia over the next decade. More specifically, the White Paper sets out the key directions Tasmania will follow in areas such as trade, investment, education, and communication with the Tasmanian community if Tasmanians are to participate fully in Asia’s rise.

The White paper identifies nine strategic goals:

  1. Increase the size and skill base of Tasmania’s workforce.
  2. Help shape Tasmania’s demographic trajectory and address Tasmania’s low cultural and economic awareness of Asia.
  3. Establish Hobart as a world-class, international, liveable, waterfront city with flow-on benefits for Tasmanians through greater Asian investment, tourism opportunities and improved access to Asian markets.
  4. Optimise Tasmania’s infrastructure by connecting the state more to Asian markets and opportunities.
  5. Increase the scale of production in areas of strength by improving connections to Asian markets and achieving efficiencies in production, logistics and marketing.
  6. Build on established export strengths in minerals, metals, forestry, food, energy, manufacturing, sustainable development and consulting services.
  7. Increase exports of food and beverages to Asian markets, with a focus on competitively priced quality foods for Asia’s growing middle class and the marketing of premium products to Asia’s high-income consumers.
  8. Support the transformation of Tasmania’s manufacturing to take advantage of international value chains and to leverage off continued innovation in areas of strength.
  9. Establish Hobart as a gateway for Asia to access the Antarctic continent and Southern Ocean based on a world-class research hub and direct logistical support.

This publication was the outcome of a collaborative partnership between the Tasmanian Government and the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy.

Last reviewed: 
5 June 2018