The Asia Society was created by John D. Rockefeller in the postwar period.
It first aimed to provide the business classes and state managers of the United States with the local knowledge necessary for their new role: Pacific overlord, holder of an anti-communist beachhead in Japan, military guarantor of capitalist property in eastern Eurasia.
Over time, the organization’s key objective has gradually become to facilitate collaboration between the elite classes of North America, Asia and elsewhere, ‘working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders, and institutions of the United States and Asia’.
The organization now has a branch, Asialink (a.k.a AustralAsia), at the University of Melbourne, whose stated goal is to ‘strengthen the linkages between political, business, and cultural leaders and decision makers from the Asian region with their Australian counterparts’:
The AustralAsia Centre does this by bringing to Australia access to an extensive network of prominent Asia-engaged individuals built up by the Asia Society over the last 50 years, and by running an extensive public programme of business, foreign policy, and cultural events.
The Melbourne centre hosted a visit last week by the U.S. Secretary of State, involving both an address and vapid Q&A session.
Meanwhile the Asia Society has just released an update to the report, compiled earlier this year by a task force chaired by General Wesley Clark (former NATO commander of Europe and Democratic presidential candidate), “Current Realities and Future Possibilities in Burma/Myanmar: Options for U.S. Policy”.
The original report recommended a combination of economic sanctions and “pragmatic engagement” with military and government officials, including the time-honoured way to cultivate a friendly or pliant national elite — through relaxing travel bans, ‘cultural outreach’ programs, Fulbright scholarships, etc.
Later, with luck, the Harvard Boys could be sent in:
U.S. policy should shift to a second stage if Burmese leaders begin to relax political restrictions, institute economic reforms, and advance human rights… [opening] the way for a much more active role by the United States in assisting with capacity building, governance training, and international efforts to encourage economic reforms. During this stage, the Task Force recommends the following:
- The United States should explore the feasibility of forming a support group with Australia, Burma, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, and Japan, perhaps under the auspices of the United Nations, to provide a mechanism for organizing international coordination and assistance for Burma’s transition, both politically and economically.
- […The] United States must be positioned to interact with the elected politicians and civil servants in the new ministries and other government structures.
- The United States should prepare to implement measures that will ease the way toward improved economic relations and the eventual removal of trade and investment sanctions.
A first measure is the provision of expert advice. Accordingly, the United States should gradually release current injunctions on and partner with institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank to provide Burma with advice on reform.
A second measure is for the United States and other appropriate countries to provide Burma with assistance in economic institution building.
Further down the line, the report recommends that the ‘United States should position itself to promote security sector reform in Burma’:
[The] United States should prepare to expand bilateral relations with Burma’s security forces and restore some form of security assistance, particularly police training assistance…Military-to-military work could be carried out jointly with Indonesian officers…In the area of police training assistance, the United States could turn to other nations that have national police experience, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom.
The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch was on the task force’s board; the NGO’s deputy director was on the advisory committee.
Changing Burma’s circumstances will primarily be a function of events internal to the country, and at the hands of domestic constituencies that recognise the incentives for change. In the meantime, the rest of the world can best promote these incentives, and best allow their realisation, by promising to reward the eventual emergence of the policies and institutions that underlie our own liberty and prosperity.
In short, the Australian Greens’ declared policy stance on Burma is shared with many powerful friends.