Last week, I was a panellist at the 13th Australia China Emerging Leaders Summit, described as “the signature initiative of the Australia China Youth Association (‘ACYA’), designed to unite and enrich a new generation of Australia-China literate Leaders”. It was held over four days in hybrid format, simultaneously across Australian cities and in Chengdu in Central West China, with the theme ‘Bridging the Gap’ and these opening comments: “In recent times, various challenges have led to the emergence of ‘gaps’ in the Australia-China space. Regardless of whether they are the gaps in knowledge and understanding of other countries and cultures, or the gaps caused by COVID-19 in the areas of tourism, education and cultural exchange, these gaps present a challenge to the Australia-China space that can only be overcome through collaboration and cooperation”.

The theme for my panel discussion was “Informed Diplomacy: Bridging the Gap for
Effective Engagement” which involved a lively discussion amongst the panellists (including Richard Adams from the Australian Consulate-General in Chengdu and Harold Weldon, a publisher, author and film-maker with a long history with China) and some insightful and interesting questions from the delegates.

In my opening remarks, I suggested that “Informed Diplomacy” had three critical inputs:

  • Mutual Respect – including a deep understanding, appreciation and passion for the historical, cultural and intergenerational factors that influence the actions and decisions of today.
  • Honest and Open Dialogue – being courageous, transparent and strong enough to be willing to discuss, admit and own up to past failings, historical mistakes and poor decisions so as to establish an ‘adult to adult’ relationship to address and resolve the problems of the future.
  • Relationships before Transactions – accepting that areas of disagreement (e.g. related to politics, ideology, trade etc.) are inevitable but should not impact on the long term trust, respect and understanding that has been built over many decades, if not centuries, by those who worked hard to build enduring relationships between Governments, businesses and people of all nationalities and cultures.

In my view, some of these basic principles, and the important role of diplomats, has been forgotten or overlooked in recent times (on all sides) and my hope is for a swift resumption of normal West-East diplomatic relations, particularly with some of the major challenges ahead, to create a better world for future generations.

Despite some well articulated expressions of concern, anxiety and even fear amongst the delegates, I came away from ACELS13 feeling a lot more positive about the future of Australia’s role in the Asian Century having engaged with these young, smart, bright, passionate, multilingual and committed leaders of the future. In Asiable, we call them our “Rising Stars

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