Rudd recently outlined a plan to organize a new regional body of Asia-Pacific countries, similar to the European Union. Rudd envisions the Asia-Pacific bloc to be in place by 2020; China has already expressed support.
by Sean Conneely
In an address to the Asia Society Australasia in Sydney, Australia, Wednesday, the prime minister called for cooperation among the countries of this growing region. Rudd added that he wants the new bloc to include, among many other countries, the United States, China, Japan, India, and Indonesia. Critics view the proposal as overly ambitious and unnecessary.
Cooperation Among Asian and Pacific Nations Key
Rudd, who was elected last November, stressed the importance of Asian and Pacific countries working together now for mutual benefit. Waiting would not be prudent.
“I believe it’s time that we started to think about where we want to be with our regional architecture in 2020,” Rudd said. (The Australian, 6/5/08)
Rudd envisions the new organization cooperating on economic and political issues. Experts say that the region’s economic influence could grow exponentially, especially with the exploding middle-class in countries like India and China.
Politically, the new Asia-Pacific union could work to ease regional conflicts. Rudd pointed to the following territorial disputes as examples:
▪ Taiwan Strait
▪ Korean Peninsula
▪ Kashmir Region
Is an Asia-Pacific Union Necessary?
Critics of Rudd’s proposal deem it unnecessary.
Dennis Jensen, a member of Australia’s House of Representatives, said he didn’t see the need for an Asia-Pacific bloc. “We actually have or had very good relationships with all of the nations in the region so no, it’s not necessary,” Jensen said. (Australian ABC News, 6/5/08)
Australia’s opposition party foreign affairs spokesperson, Andrew Robb, called the plan ‘presumptuous.’
“His first job is not to be making pronouncements about grand architecture for the region, telling China, Indonesia and Japan and India how they will be organized as a region by Australia in the next 20 years,” Robb said. (BBC, 6/5/08)
Rudd has admitted his proposal is bold, but vital to the region’s economic growth and political stability. And he doesn’t appear to be alone.
China on Board with Australia Proposal
While Rudd’s critics voiced their concern, one of the major players in the proposed Asia-Pacific union expressed its support.
Chinese officials said Thursday that they would back any plan that promotes cooperation in the region.
“We hope countries in the Asia-Pacific can make joint efforts to enhance exchanges, political mutual trust and deepen mutually beneficial cooperation so as to promote common development. Any proposal that’s in line with this goal, we will support it,” said Qin Gang, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson.
The Australian prime minister has tapped former ambassador to Indonesia, Richard Woolcott, to spearhead the ambitious plan.