Monday, October 29, 2012


Julia Gillard just doesn't understand. Why we are alive? To make money? To be a multi-factorial input for the production process? Or for some other reason.

Amidst all the verbiage launching the Asia White Paper today she listed the reasons we need to engage with the region.

Money, economy, security - all of the usual suspects were front and centre, just as you'd expect. Yet how utterly devoid of imagination!

The reason to be engaged with Asia is because it's interesting, exciting, challenging, fun and wonderful and to interact with foreign cultures . . .

Gillard's fundamental misunderstanding of why we should be engaging with the region bedevils the entire White Paper. And the problem is that something based on such a flimsy base - to lever ourself into Asia so we can relieve people of their money - will inevitably fail.

Speaking Chinese for business purposes is fine, but that's not the real reason someone should learn Putonghua (Mandarin). The aim is to understand the culture. Unless you're excited to comprehend  and learn about one of the world's great civilisations, you're wasting your time.

Listening to the cheap reasoning today made me almost physically ill.

I previously learnt (a little) Thai and a bare smattering of Vietnamese and Khmer. It helped my reporting in (what was then) Indochina. So did my bad French.

But by showing I was respectful and trying to speak the language helped me enormously. It showed respect. People didn't think I was patronising. I was attempting to communicate.

The goodwill this engendered was almost worth more than if I'd mastered the languages. I was demonstrating I wanted to find out more about their culture, and people liked this. The reality was that I could have done everything simply by using English.

The benefits of learning a language were all personal.

There's no need to justify it to help make greater profits.

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