Australia in the Asian Century White Paper

On 28 September 2011, then prime minister Julia Gillard commissioned the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper (“White Paper”), under the direction of the former Treasury secretary Ken Henry and coordinated by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Its task was to ‘help Australia navigate the Asian Century’ by providing ‘a national blueprint for Australia at a time of transformative economic growth and change in Asia’. The significant economic and political consequences for Australia of China’s rise were featured prominently in the decision to initiate writing of the White Paper — Gillard’s launch speech emphasised China, and Henry chose to focus the report on China, Indonesia, India, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam.

After a long gestation, the final White Paper was launched on 28 October 2012, with Gillard endorsing it as a ‘roadmap showing how Australia can be a winner in the Asian century’. The 320-page document outlined twenty-five objectives for Australia to take advantage of Asia’s ‘unstoppable rise’ by 2025. These targets included: improved education and continuous access for Australian students to a priority Asian language (Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian or Japanese); one-third of top corporate board-members and public servants having deep experience and knowledge of Asia; Australian per capita GDP entering the global top ten; and, a larger diplomatic footprint in Asia (particularly China).

Reactions to the White Paper were mixed. Some observers expressed their wish for a new deepening of Australia–Asia relations, and a majority praised the Gillard government for recognising the importance of reviving the national debate about Australia’s relationship with Asia. However, commentators variously criticised the White Paper for: setting vague and unrealistic goals; failing to explain how its visionary aspirations would and could be funded; rehashing failed Hawke-Keating-era policy; taking a complacently optimistic view of Asia’s future and Australia’s role; using Asia policy for domestic politicking; and, neglecting certain important areas of concern. The report attracted modest Chinese media attention and was welcomed as a ‘pivot’ back to China after the 2009 Defence White Paper [topic page link]; China Daily saw China ‘at the centre of almost every facet’ of the Asian Century White Paper.

The rhetoric of an ‘Asian Century’ entered the Australian political and media lexicon, and was central to Australia’s foreign policy under the Gillard government [topic link page]. Gillard referred to the upgrade of the Australia–China relationship to the formation of a ‘strategic partnership’ in April 2013 as delivering a White Paper commitment [topic link page].

After the Coalition victory over the Labor Party at the 7 September 2013 federal election, the new Abbott administration [topic page link] archived the Australia in the Asian Century website on 20 September 2013. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop stated the White Paper was a ‘valuable resource’ for the Coalition’s ‘economic diplomacy’ with Asia, but officials confirmed the ‘Asian Century’ concept had been dropped. Bishop had previously criticised the White Paper as ‘a brazen attempt at self congratulation that tries to make the argument that to take advantage of Asia’s growth we merely have to adopt Labor’s current policy agenda.’ Nevertheless, Abbott has repeatedly used the expression ‘Asian Century’ while Prime Minister.


Pre-launch Commentary

September 2011

October 2011

April 2012

June 2012

July 2012

August 2012

September 2012

October 2012

The Launch

Post-launch Commentary


The Australian

Australian Financial Review

Canberra Times

China Daily

The China Story Journal

The Conversation


The Diplomat

East Asia Forum

The Economist

The Herald Sun

The Interpreter

The Monthly

The Strategist

The Sydney Morning Herald

The Wall Street Journal


Chinese Media Responses


February 2013

April 2013


August 2013

October 2013

November 2013

March 2014

April 2014

October 2014