Sydney: Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called on Asia-Pacific countries to form a European Union-style grouping that he said would enhance regional security and prosperity.
Rudd said an Asia-Pacific Community — a potential economic powerhouse including China, India, the United States and Japan — could be established by 2020.
“The key thing is to enhance security and regional cooperation, which at present is fragmented,” Rudd said in a radio interview on Thursday after outlining the idea in an address to the Asia Society Australasia a day earlier.
“Remember the region is currently host to a whole range of unresolved territorial conflicts — the Taiwan Straits, the Korean peninsula, Kashmir, involving a whole range of nuclear weapons states.
“We can either stand back and allow things to drift, or we can say ‘actually there should be a better way of handling this´. That’s what we’re putting forward as an ambitious proposal for the future.”
Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker and ardent Sinophile, has made engagement with Asia a foreign policy priority since his election last November.
Rudd’s stance contrasts with that of his conservative predecessor John Howard, whose foreign minister Alexander Downer argued Australia had a “practical” engagement with Asia’s booming economies but not the “emotional” engagement it shared with Britain and the United States.
Outlining his vision for an Asia-Pacific community in his speech in Sydney, Rudd said Australia needed to prepare for the “Asia-Pacific century.”
“Put simply, global economic and strategic weight is shifting to Asia,” he said.
“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.”
Rudd said the process began with Japan’s post-World War II recovery, followed by rapid development in Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, then the countries of South East Asia and now the emergence of China and India as economic giants.