Australia is a poor friend to Asia, billionaires Kerry Stokes and James Packer said on Friday.
Speaking at a business conference, Packer said we hadn’t let China know “how grateful we are for their business”.
“And I think that if that continues for long periods of time, friendships get damaged,” Packer said.
Friendships are important to succeeding in Asia, as are many other skills little required in corporate Australia, a leading Asia consultant, Tamerlaine Beasley, tells LeadingCompany.
Her comments come as Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu leads a massive trade delegation to China. More than 650 business delegates and three cabinet ministers are scheduled to visit a dozen of China’s biggest cities, in a bid to build stronger ties.
Baillieu called for a ramping up of efforts to get a China-Australia free trade agreement finalised, telling reporters “it’s been going on too long and New Zealand has a head-start on us.”
China’s quarry or a business partner?
Recent weeks have brought a flurry of soul-searching about Australia’s relationship with the developing nations to our north. As commodity prices fall, our complacency is unravelling. We can be so much more than China’s quarry, the sentiment goes, but we’re not doing enough.
The government last year commissioned a white paper into Australia’s place in the Asian century. The taskforce is headed by former Treasury secretary Ken Henry, and is due to report in a few months.
Two weeks ago, its findings were foreshadowed by those from Asialink, a ‘soft-diplomacy’ department funded by the University of Melbourne. Its taskforce of leading Australian business figures – including ANZ chief Mike Smith, EMR Capital’s Jason Chang and IAG’s Mike Wilkins – recently called for increased government investment on Asia-relevant education to develop an ‘Asia-capable workforce’.
This is all well and good, but the government doesn’t have the money to implement a meaningful program given its other priorities, says Beasley. She’s the president of the Australia-Thailand business council, and the managing director of cultural training agency Beasley Intercultural. Her clients include many of Australia’s biggest companies, including Qantas and QBE.
She says it falls to executives themselves to skill themselves to compete in Asia, and they need to start doing so today.
Education is only a small part of this.
“You can understand a lot about Japanese poetry or Korean art, but that doesn’t mean you can work in a business there,” Beasley says.
“It’s about having the relevant skills to operate in a business setting.”
What you need to succeed
These skills don’t always come easily. Asia can test leaders who haven’t worked there before.