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"It is a little crude, with respect, a little out of date, to make the sort of assumption that there is something fundamentally different between Australia and New Zealand and the countries to our north," he said.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
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Brendan Rodgers is confident that Sterling will put pen to paper on a new deal at Anfield
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...