The benefits of quiet diplomacy

3 October 2016
Insight into our relationship with Japan

Australia’s Ambassador to Japan, Bruce Miller, is optimistic about a future built on shared interests.

Bruce Miller

With a career in foreign policy that spans 30 years, Bruce Miller (BA ’84 LLB ’86) has dealt with Australia’s relations with East Asia and Australian responses to regional and global security issues. 

Having held the post of Australia’s Ambassador to Japan for five years, Bruce says our relationship with Japan continues to produce big wins, which often come in below the radar because they are not controversial. 

“The total stock of Japanese foreign direct investment in Australia moved to second place after the United States last calendar year,” he explains. 

“And there will be more to come. Japanese corporate reserves are enormous, and looking for productive use outside Japan and Australia can be a very competitive destination.” 

Bruce adds that since the emergence of the Japan-Australia free trade agreement, there have been big increases in areas where tariffs have been removed or reduced. He believes the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), of which we are both members, will only add to this momentum when it comes into force. 

“Importantly, it is not just the big end of town,” he adds. “We are seeing a whole new class of small- to medium-sized exporter who has not previously had much in the way of an international business.

“Further, the defence and strategic relationship has moved forward in leaps and bounds over the last 10 years. We are both democracies and market economies committed to the liberal rules-based international order which has prevailed, albeit imperfectly, over the last few decades. This means that our cooperation in dealing with international issues arises naturally and proceeds smoothly.” 

So how did Bruce’s studies in law at Sydney help him prepare for a career in foreign affairs and diplomacy? 

“I had been interested in international relations and in the countries of East Asia from my high school days on, so working in diplomacy was always one option,” he says.

“Having both a law degree and an arts degree gave me several different ways of approaching problem-solving. My law degree helped me develop the capacity to make a case, that is, to be an advocate for Australian interests abroad. 

"The process of sifting through the evidence, looking at the principles and the precedents available, and then trying to come up with a creative and persuasive argument also owe an enormous amount to my law studies.” 

Bruce acknowledges the breadth of education he received at Sydney Law School, naming three teachers as particularly memorable. 

“Professor Patrick Lane gave me an appreciation of constitutional law, the guiding document underpinning government and our society, which has stood me in good stead as a public servant. 

“Professor Bob Austin’s forensic exposition of the complexities of equity was a marvel of clarity and a model for logical advocacy. 

“And Professor David Johnston taught me the principles of public international law. I enjoyed his ‘softly-softly’ approach, and so much of what he taught has stayed with me."

“While Japan is grappling with escaping from 20 years of deflation and low growth, it is notching up successes in some areas of structural reform which will have long-term benefits to the Japanese economy, and create more opportunities for Australian exporters.”

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