Getting the balance right between the opportunities present in trade, and a realistic appraisal of the strategic threats that may lie in the future, is the perennial challenge of foreign policy, the In the Zone conference at The University of Western Australia has heard.
Dr Ric Smith AO PSM, Australia's Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, yesterday described the hard work in economic integration and forward planning that had occurred over the past decade.
He said Australia's efforts in engaging with Asia over the years had been more vigorous than many people appreciated.
"We often regard the onus for the development of our interests in Asia as being on our side. In fact, Australian governments have worked much harder on building relationships than their Asian counterparts," Dr Smith said.
"We tend to be self critical - we think we are not doing enough with India, or Indonesia. My experience in both countries is that we have done enough, or in fact done more than the other countries have."
Dr Smith said the core global strategic importance of the Indian Ocean was in its trade routes, however the defining security issues of our time had their origins not in East Asia but the Mumbai to Beirut route.
"Here, there is no relief in sight, only more risk and bad news. It is not just the latest chapter in the Israel-Palestine saga, or the disaster than continues to unfold in Syria ... but the enormous risk of Iran's nuclear weapon capability," he said.
Mr Rory Medcalf, Program Director - International Strategy, The Lowy Institute, called for the reinvigoration of the Indo-Pacific concept. This concept sees the trade routes of the Indian and Pacific Oceans as the strategic focus of the region and is a way of expanding on the traditional east Asian narrative.
"The Asia that Australia needs to engage, economically, societally and strategically is no longer limited to the Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, or the China of the ‘90s and early 2000s; it is also South Asia but especially India, now a major trading partner, substantial investor, growing military power and diplomatic player," Mr Medcalf said.
The Indo-Pacific concept is underpinned by the strategic role and presence of the US in the region, which in recent times have included defence initiatives, the AUSMIN talks in Perth, and President Obama's recent historic visit to Myanmar.
Mr Medcalf said a key policy question posed by the Indo-Pacific order was the place of China and how it should be included.
He said an effective diplomatic and strategic response to China's rise would be complex and multi-layered, and that Australia was well-positioned to play a role in bringing together the key powers of the Indo-Pacific region.
In the Zone is an intensive meeting of national and international leaders from the business, government and academic sectors.
With the theme ‘The Geography of Global Prosperity', the conference provides an opportunity for discussion and debate about the increasingly complex global neighbourhood and key policy questions facing Australia and the region.
The conference follows the success of the 2009 In the Zone Conference and the 2011 Business Forum.
For more information about the In the Zone conference: www.zone.uwa.edu.au