East sees red over Oz map wizardry

Robert Milliken in Sydney reports on a cartographic clash with Asia

Forget the Western Hemisphere and other long-standing signposts of the world's geographical identities. Gareth Evans, the Australian Foreign Minister, returned home yesterday after unveiling a map redefining Australia's place in the world at the centre of a new configuration, the East Asian Hemisphere.

Drawn up by Australian officials, the map is the latest weapon in the country's campaign to convince its Asian neighbours that it is not really Down Under, or off the map entirely, but one of them.

"The East Asian Hemisphere is where we live," Mr Evans told the seven foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), whose annual conference in Brunei wound up on Thursday night.

"This is where we have to find our security. This is where we can best guarantee our prosperity. This is where not only our neighbours are, but our closest friends."

The map which Mr Evans flourished showed Australia in the centre of a region bounded by Siberia to the north, Antarctica to the south and Burma to the west. Spanning the area in between were Japan, China, Korea and the booming "tiger" economies of South East Asia, with which Australia's Labour government has adopted a policy known as "comprehensive engagement". New Zealand just made it on the map in the far east.

Mr Evans's definition of the East Asian Hemisphere, and of his country's place in it, evoked surprise, followed by indignation. Malaysia, the Asean member with the most prickly relations with the West - and one which has had a rocky relationship with Australia - resented Mr Evans's attempt to rewrite the regional map.

"If I look at a map, I believe that it says that Australia is not part of Asia," said Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Malaysia's Foreign Minister.

"We are part of Asia, and Australia is down there. Australia is another continent."

Why, asked an Indonesian journalist, was Australia so determined to become part of Asia when it was a "white race" down south?

Such remarks brought forth a bristling reply from Mr Evans, who has worked tirelessly in his seven years as Foreign Minister to strengthen Australia's image in Asia

"It is a little crude, with respect, a little out of date, to make the sort of assumption that there is something fundamentally different between Australia and New Zealand and the countries to our north," he said.

But is it? The dilemma which the Asean-Australia spat re-opened lies at the heart of Australia's attempt to recast its identity as a country breaking free from its European past and forging a future as leader of the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia's wish to bridge the cultural divide and become a regional leader has been a driving force behind its republican movement and the campaign against France's planned resumption of nuclear tests in the Pacific.

The roots of the identity conundrum run deeper. This week, Australia has been marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of an immigration policy which has transformed it from an Anglo-Celtic country to one of the world's most diverse multicultural nations, now taking almost half its immigrants from Asia. The founder of that policy, the late Arthur Calwell, a Labour government minister, never intended it to evolve in this way. A defender of the discredited White Australia policy, he once made the infamous remark: "Two Wongs don't make a White."

As late as 1972, Mr Calwell said: "If Australians are ever foolish enough to open their gates in a significant way to people other than Europeans, they will soon find themselves fighting desperately to stop the nation being flooded by hordes of non-integrables."

Some Asian leaders see such sentiments still lurking below the surface of Australia's national psyche. For their part, Australian officials grumble that the insular regional view promoted by countries such as Malaysia is little more than a reverse mirror image of the old White Australia policy.

It was Malaysia that vetoed a move at the Asean conference this week to admit Australia and New Zealand as participants in the inaugural summit of Asian and European leaders due to be held in Thailand early next year. The Asean ministers eventually agreed to Australia and New Zealand joining the second Asia-Europe summit in 1997. The question of which hemisphere the two countries will represent is still open to dispute.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public