The complex, emerging and evolving relationships Australia has across the Asian region fell under the insightful microscope of the Honourable John Howard OM AC at Griffith University last night.

The former Prime Minister delivered a compelling analysis in an hour-long speech at the Queensland Conservatorium in the first Asia Lecture hosted by the Griffith Asia Institute.

With a wealth of firsthand knowledge infused through the content of his address, Mr Howard charted the history of Australian foreign policy and economic trade across the region before an audience of academics, students and invited guests.

“Australia’s relationship with Asia is of enduring significance to this country,” he said, describing the current climate as a “common sense phase”.

In this context, he added that Griffith was to be congratulated on inaugurating the Asia Lecture series.

Rise of China

The value of relationships with Japan, Burma, Indonesia, India, Malaysia and Singapore each came in for some discussion, but none more than China. “The rise of China has been good for China and good for the world,” Mr Howard said.

“It has contributed to our wealth and economic growth but we should not make the mistake of being mesmerised by China. China remains unashamedly an authoritarian country.”

Mr Howard commended the attitude of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on his recent visit to China for emphasising the dividend to be gained from the relationship with China while also emphasising the importance of rule of law in international relations.

“He struck the right note,” Mr Howard said. “He didn’t compromise on principle.”

He described Australia’s bilateral relationships with China and the United States as the most important in the Asian region.

“Australia will always be closer to the US than it is to China. The common values between the two countries are stronger and common values will always trump trade agreements.

“But we should be pragmatic in our relationship with China and focus on what we have in common.”

Open Door

He argued that an open door policy should be maintained when it came to Chinese investment in Australia. “Chinese investment should be treated exactly the same as investment from any other country. We should welcome investment from anywhere in the world.”

In conclusion, Mr Howard summed up the growth of the Asian middle class of as “ongoing colossal significance” to Australia.

Professor David Grant, Pro Vice Chancellor (Business) congratulated Mr Howard on a masterclass. “This was a talk that reminded us of the enormous change that has taken place and is ongoing in the region, a talk that has left us with lots to think about when we consider where the region may be headed.”