Australia needs Asian perspective: historian

China Plus Published: 2019-09-02 10:39:38
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David Walker is an Australian historian who focuses on the Asia-Pacific region. He hopes his study of the region's history will help Australia to better understand itself and how it should approach dealing with other countries in the region.

A small yacht sails on Sydney Harbour as it passes the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, October 23, 2017.[Photo: VCG]

A small yacht sails on Sydney Harbour as it passes the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, October 23, 2017.[Photo: VCG]

When David Walker started studying the history of the Asia-Pacific region decades ago, it was quite natural for him to dedicate a lot of attention to looking at China.

"So my interest is in how Australians have understood or talked about or reflected upon Asia. So that includes China, obviously. I guess that interest got became a lot sharper became clearer in the last twenty years or so."

His first trip to China was in the early 1990s, when he went to the eastern city of Yangzhou. According to Walker, Yangzhou makes a perfect example of the scale of the transformation China has gone through over the years.

"Yangzhou is a beautiful city, actually. I mean it was not on the railway line then and it was still not very heavily developed. But when we went back there around 2015, it was almost unrecognizable. The railway line had gone through, and there were lots of developments there."

People in China have been getting richer, and not just in the showcase cities like Beijing and Shanghai. A rise in living standards has also taken place in the country's rural and remote areas.

Walker is especially impressed with China's work on poverty alleviation. He thinks China's experience provides a path to prosperity for many other developing countries.

"I'm sure a lot of African countries have looked to China and look to China's development is being a model that they could follow."

As a historian, Walker believes that the study of the past helps people to understand what is happening today. That also applies to China-Australia relations.

Walker believes that the cooling of bilateral relations between China and Australia is due in part to a lack of understanding about China's long history.

"I don't think Australia can move close to the Chinese system. China is not going to move a lot closer to the Australian system. I think we just have to accept that there're different modes of governance. China has such a rich history, and you cannot understand the world we live in now without understanding the Chinese history."

Walker says that with a better understanding of the past, China's role in Australia's history will be better recognized, and so will its importance to the country's future.

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