Australia seeks new Asia-Pacific community embracing India

June 5th, 2008 - 9:25 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, June 5 (IANS) Emphasising the need to re-energise Australia’s relationship with India, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd outlined his vision for a new regional institution in the Asia-Pacific region based on the European Union model. “We need to have a vision for the Asia-Pacific community, a vision that embraces a regional institution which spans the entire Asia-Pacific region - including the United States, Japan, China, India, Indonesia and the other states of our region,” Rudd said while speaking at the Asia Society AustralAsia Centre annual dinner at The Westin Hotel here Wednesday night.

To discuss this proposal with countries in the region, Rudd announced the appointment of Richard Woolcott, founding member of the Asia Society AustralAsia Centre, former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and former ambassador to the United Nations, who will visit the various capitals over the next six months.

He told an audience of diplomats, including the high commissioners of India and Pakistan, businesses, academics and the media that “This is the Asia Pacific Century. For the first time in the settled history of this continent, we find ourselves in the region that will be at the centre of global affairs. This government is committed to strong, close, cooperative relations with the countries of Asia.”

However, opposition foreign affairs spokesman Andrew Robb said telling countries like India, China, Indonesia and Japan how they will be organised as a region is a little bit presumptious on Australia’s part.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said a new alliance will ensure countries like India are no longer neglected by Australia. “I frankly think that Australia has been neglecting its relationship with India for about 30 years,” Smith said.

Rudd’s speech only made a passing reference to India. “In South Asia, we need to re-energise our relationship with the other rising giant, India……..the rise of India and China represent great economic, environmental, energy policy and security reverberations for the future.”

Stating that “continued economic growth will encourage the acquisition of higher technology military systems” across Asia and “Terrorism in South-East Asia will remain a continuing challenge”, Rudd singled out “Kashmir, the Taiwan Strait, the Korean Peninsula” as “continuing potential flashpoints”.

Some of the past keynote speakers of the Asia Society include Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

The Asia Society AustralAsia Centre was launched in May 1997 as a non-profit, educational organisation with the aim to broaden understanding of Asian countries and cultures amongst Australian people and to strengthen political, business and cultural linkages.

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