Australia in the Asian Century and why you should study Japanese

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This article will argue that Australia’s overarching focus on engaging Asia and the increasingly strong ties between the two nations are two compelling reasons why you should learn Japanese. It will also highlight some of the various opportunities available for Australians to learn Japanese both in Japan and at home.

Australia in the Asian Century

In 2011, the former Australian government released the Australia in the Asian Century white paper, which underlined Australia’s need to broaden and deepen our engagement and understanding of Asian cultures and languages in order to become Asia-literate. Whilst it is impossible to summarise all of the points, some are worth mentioning. The commissioning of the report recognised that the rise and power of Asia, the most populous region in the world, will lead to an increasing demand of a diverse range of goods and services that an Asia-literate Australia can benefit from.

It acknowledged that an Asia-literate Australia would possess the necessary capabilities to build stronger connections and partnerships across the region, which will help unlock large economic and social gains. Furthermore it recognised that Australians from all levels (governmental, business and societal) with a deeper understanding of Asia, will better understand how to benefit from growth in the region.

Against this backdrop, it underlined how Australian students will not just have the opportunity, but will be actively encouraged to study an Asian priority language (Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese) throughout their formative years in school. To improve not just language skills but also people-to-people links, it also called for an increase in the number of Australian students studying in Asia through closer links with regional institutions and providing the necessary support (financial and informational) for students who wish to study in Asia. Lastly, it underscored the importance of developing trade agreements in Asia to lower trade and investment barriers so that the cost of doing business in Asia will be reduced. With reduced business costs, Australian businesses will be further encouraged to engage with and increase knowledge of the Asian region.

In sum, since Australia’s current and future development and prosperity is tied to the Asian region, knowledge of Asia and Asian languages are, and will increasingly become, highly important assets to have in both the public and private sectors.

So why study Japanese?

The Japan-Australia partnership

Whilst Japan is not as economically or strategically important as the United States or China, it still presides over the 3rd largest economy in the world. It still holds this position despite undergoing two decades of economic stagnation and suffering from the 2011 triple disaster: the earthquake, the tsunami and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Japan is also Australia’s most mature partner in the Asian region, as reflected in Prime Minister Tony Abbott description of Japan as ‘Australia’s best friend in Asia’. Whilst the labeling of Japan as ‘Australia’s best friend in Asia’ is arguably rather simple, it does accurately capture the importance of Japan to Australia. This level of importance is underpinned by a number of key factors including trade and our shared strategic alliance with the United States.

With two-way trade equalling 70 billion for 2013, Japan is very important to Australia’s economy. It is Australia’s second largest export market and third largest source of foreign investment: Japan lacks its own natural resources to fuel its economy, making Australia its largest supplier of raw material. This makes Australia a vital strategic partner to Japan’s economic strength now and into the future.

In addition to minerals, Japan is also an important market to the Australian agricultural industry. Beef figures in the top 5 exports to Japan, worth close to 1.5 billion dollars in 2013. Although Japan does have a beef industry, it does not have the ability to adequately supply enough for its own people and thus imports quality beef from beef exporting nations to compensate. As a result, Australian beef can be found throughout Japan in restaurants and supermarkets. On top of this, with a growing appetite and appreciation for wine, Japan is Australia’s sixth largest wine market in volume and value.

The recent signing of the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA) will ensure that this strong partnership will continue well into the future. The agreement has been heralded as ‘historic’ and Japan’s ‘best deal ever’ with an agricultural exporter. It gives Australia preferential access for Australian exports and will lead to the eventual halving of a number of tariffs on important Australian exports including beef, dairy and wine, thus making Australian produce more competitive in the Japanese domestic market: this will further strengthen two-way trade.

In addition, the signing and the resulting reduction of tariffs to agricultural imports demonstrates Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s resolve to open up the fiercely protected agricultural industry to make Japan more internationally competitive to the world and improve Japan’s growth prospects. With the gradual reduction of tariffs over the next few years through the MAEPA agreement and the Japanese government’s focus on increasing international competitiveness, Australian producers are well positioned to further increase their Japanese market share now and into the future.

More than just economics

Cooperation also extends beyond just economics. Both nations – which rely on international trade and cooperation – have a common interest in maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. With this common interest, Australia and Japan cooperate on a bilateral security level through law enforcement; border security; maritime and aviation security; peace operations and humanitarian relief operations; and other areas.

Cooperation on these areas is underpinned by a shared commitment to the US alliance, which is supported by the Australia-Japan United States trilateral strategic dialogue. The United States is a key ally for both Japan and Australia and thus both nations use the dialogue as a means to channel their growing role in the region into a ‘more cohesive policy mechanism’ with the United States. This dialogue is also increasingly focussed on defence cooperation, with information sharing, joint military training and exercise coordination taking place regularly. Indeed, with regular cooperation on security matters, Japan has described Australia as its second most important security partner behind the United States.

Some final thoughts

Depending on your interests, you may not wish to study Japanese based on increasingly strong governmental ties, trade and business opportunities; people often study languages based on other motivations including cultural affinity and interests. However the article helps demonstrate Australia’s current and future priority in engaging with Asia, and the increasingly strong partnership with Japan in the economic and strategic space, which will mean increased opportunities to engage with Japan on a governmental, business and civil society level, now and into the future.

How you can take advantage

There are a number of avenues to learn Japanese, some worth highlighting include:

Study Japanese in Japan:

Japan offers cultural visas to Australians for a variety of purposes including studying Japanese for a period of up to 1 year. Applicants need to undertake a certificate of eligibility to be submitted at a Japanese embassy or consulate in Australia.

Working Holiday Visas:

Japan offers Australians (between the age of 18 and 30) 6-month working holiday visas, which can be renewed twice. The applications process is simple and can be done at your nearest Japanese consulate in Australia. The visa provides you an excellent opportunity to find work (mostly teaching English) to live in Japan and immerse yourself into Japanese culture and language.

Japanese courses in Australia:

There are a number of great Japanese language programs in Australia at universities and private language institutes.

Japanese exchange:

Whether you are a beginner or an expert, language exchanges are a great tool to improve your Japanese. Some options include: Japanese social meet up and language connection.

Scholarships available

New Colombo Plan

Japan was included as one of four host countries for the rollout of the pilot phase of the New Colombo Plan, which offers scholarships to Australian undergraduates to study and intern/work in the region (this has now expanded to 35 host countries in the Asian region in 2015). The initiative aims to improve knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia and strengthen people-to-people and institutional relationships. Although applications to apply for scholarships for 2015 have already concluded, the 2016 round may just be that perfect opportunity to kick-start your Japanese language learning. Applications are yet to be announced.

Westpac Scholarship 

The Westpac Asian Exchange Scholarship is a great opportunity that enables students to study in a range of different Asian countries for up to two semesters. With a scholarship amount of $12,500, Many students will usually undertake internships, intensive language courses, or volunteerig during their time on the scholarship.

For further information and other tips on how to learn Japanese, see Japanese skills on a shoestring.

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Chris is currently working as an analyst for the Victorian Government. He has experience working for Refugees International Japan, the Australian High Commission to Malaysia and Asialink (the University of Melbourne). He has a Master of International Relations, speaks Spanish and is learning Japanese.

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