Michael Chaney, one of WA's most prominent business leaders, has called on the State and Federal governments to boost the number of students studying Chinese languages by providing them with extra incentives to go to university.
Mr Chaney, former head of Wesfarmers and current NAB chairman, told the opening session of the University of WA's In the Zone conference yesterday that in 2007, only 17 WA high school students out of nearly 12,000 had taken the main Chinese language tertiary entrance exam.
According to the Curriculum Council about 20 took the test last year.
The In The Zone conference has drawn a range of business and political leaders to canvass WA's place in its time zone, a region that includes 60 per cent of the world's population and most of its fastest-growing economies.
Mr Chaney said that within the zone, China and India in particular were starting to reclaim their centuries-old status as dominant world economies, which had been lost in the early part of the 20th century.
However, for the relationships between Asian nations and WA to reach their full potential "much more had to be done with respect to cultural ties".
"I think the first challenge is to make sure we have Chinese language teachers because some schools lament the fact that they can't get Chinese teachers," Mr Chaney said.
"And that's something that governments need to have a look at to provide incentives for people to become involved as teachers.
"There are other things you can do, for example where you do foreign languages you get a boost in your (university entrance score) and that helps, because one of the problems is to encourage students to take any language rather than the soft options in their TEE, so I think there have to be further incentives to do that."
Immigration Minister Chris Evans told the conference that the Federal Government was committed to making Australia the most "Asian literate nation in the Western world".
It has recently announced a series of grants worth about $1.8 million to schools and students to improve Asian language skills.
Mr Chaney said that WA was on the cusp of another resources boom. Even based on conservative growth estimates, China's economy would double within the next decade.
This would mean that it would consume more resources over that time than it had in its entire history, he said.
The conference also heard from the Chinese and Japanese ambassadors to Australia.
Japanese Ambassador Taka-aki Kojima has previously told _The West Australian _that WA and Japan should use their long-standing relationship to co-operate on business opportunities in other Asian countries because of their "shared values".
The conference finishes today.