According to The Nikkei Asian Review, Australia aims to become an innovative technological powerhouse as its current resource-based economy is buffeted by low commodity prices, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Friday.
That transition, as well as free trade under the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, will be key to the country's economic future, Turnbull said. He gave multiple speeches and news conferences while in town for talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The visit to Japan is his first since taking office in September.
Prices of iron ore, coal and other key Australian exports have plummeted of late, knocking industry there. But this was to some extent expected, given China's recent economic deceleration and oversupply of those products, Turnbull said. Instability in commodities markets will continue for some time, he predicted.
Yet even as resource prices continue to slide, Australia's employment and economic growth are strong, Turnbull said. This year will be Australia's "25th year of uninterrupted economic growth, longer than any other advanced economy," he noted. The leader endorsed government forecasts of 2.5% real economic growth this fiscal year.
"There is a lot for Australians to be proud of, there is a lot for those who do business with Australia to be confident in -- our prospects, our future, our dynamism, our economy," he said. "In Australia, we are filled with optimism."
The recently announced National Innovation and Science Agenda will help ensure that Australia "successfully transitions from the resources boom to the ideas boom," Turnbull said. Using technological innovation to spur the development of new industry is one of the most critical tasks facing the country at present, he explained. Australia therefore seeks to emulate and cooperate with Japan to promote tighter links between academia and business, he said.
A number of developing nations have been rattled by the recent U.S. interest rate hike. But the move's effect on Australia has been limited, with the currency there weakening only slightly so far, Turnbull said.
Freer trade under the Trans-Pacific Partnership will benefit all nations involved, Turnbull said. The agreement concluded in October is "a very important step" in bringing down trade barriers in the Asia-Pacific region, he said. "I'm confident the TPP will pass our Parliament."
Australia and other nations also "would welcome a wider agreement," Turnbull noted. "Indonesia has indicated it wants to join the TPP, and I think everyone would welcome that, too."
The leader called for a peaceful resolution to territorial conflicts among China and other nations in the South China Sea, saying that "the only threat to continued economic growth, to continued prosperity, is disorder, is tension, is conflict." Every country in the region, large or small, "should aim to ensure that whatever they do does not exacerbate tensions," he said.
Australia's "fundamental strategic posture" in the Asia-Pacific region remains much the same under Turnbull as under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, said Peter Drysdale, professor emeritus at Australian National University. Turnbull is pursuing "balanced diplomacy" based on a "subtle understanding of how all parties in Australia and the region -- Japan, China, Korea and so on -- how the structure of their interests is complex," Drysdale said, in a recent interview with The Nikkei.
While Turnbull may not be so bold as to call Japan "Australia's best friend in Asia," as his predecessor did, his visit to the country demonstrated that the tone of bilateral relations remains the same as ever, sources close to the leader say.
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