Australia's Prime Minister KEVIN Rudd has questioned the value of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group at its 20th annual meeting, putting forward his own proposal for an Asia Pacific community with a role in regional security as the future of regional co-operation.
Speaking to a group of business leaders in Singapore on Saturday, Mr Rudd said that while the Asia-Pacific region had a range of forums, including APEC, the East Asia Summit and ASEAN, none had an overarching role that emcompassed economic development, security and political co-operation.
"How do we avoid the re-emergence of fundamental strategic rifts in our region in the future, when we’re still required to deal with some of the deep, underlying challenges concerning territorial claims - unresolved territorial claims in the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Straits, in the South China Sea and elsewhere?" the Prime Minister said.
"How do you avoid any future conflict which would underpin the trajectory of growth that we’ve had so successfully in this region now for many decades? And how do we enhance further our cooperation to create over time a single market in these vast economies which we represent here?
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"Our proposal for an Asia-Pacific Community seeks to do this - it seeks to bring together in a single institution over time the economies and countries of our region, with an agenda which covers the entire space, not just part of it."
Since taking office in 2007 Mr Rudd has been an active participant in regional and global political posturing and was the key force behind the successful push to make the G20 group of 20 powerful nations the key role for dealing with global issues, including the global recession.
He has also proposed the development of an Asia-Pacific community loosely modelled on the European Union by 2020.
Today, in his first speech at this weekend's 20th APEC Leader's summit, Mr Rudd said APEC was a gathering of economies.
And he said that while the East Asia summit and ASEAN had their strengths, no group had an role covering political cooperation, security cooperation, as well as economic cooperation for the entire region.
"So our vision for the future is how do we create an institution which draws all these ... economies, and, most importantly, together with an agenda which covers the political, security, and economic space, to encourage the habits of cooperation, the habits which underpin security cooperation, the habits which underpin a common sense of community in our region,'' the Prime Minister said.
"Often, we assume that somehow peace and security are delivered by some deterministic means -- that they are inevitable."
He said regional peace and cooperation had been hard fought through the regional institutions over recent decades, noting that history prior to that was "not a happy history at all".
"Therefore, we have to encourage through direct institution-building these habits of cooperation to become entrenched and normal in the future," he said.
"Think of this with Europe. Europe fought disastrous wars from the 17th century to the 18th century to the 19th century, and finally, the cataclysm of two world wars in the 20th century, before finally realising that they had to fashion an institution which would put conflict to one side, and fashion instead the habits of cooperation. And that is the European Union.
"I do not advocate a European Union model for the countries of the Asia-Pacific region, but I believe we can learn from that example, and learn from the example fashioned within our own neighbourhood through ASEAN itself, an extraordinary successful organisation.
"So let us have an ambition to move our region in this direction."
The APEC meeting will heat up later with the arrival of US President Barack Obama.
Mr Rudd hopes to meet Mr Obama on Sunday to discuss climate change and encourage him to attend next month's international meeting in Copenhagen, desgined to reach a pact on carbon emission reductions.
Mr Rudd is also expected to sign a pact on asylum seekers tomorrow with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to deal with the recent increase in asylum seekers arriving off northern Australian from Sri Lanka.
Speaking earlier this morning, Mr Rudd denied that Australian authorities had offered to 22 Sri Lankan asylum seekers who have agreed to disembark the Australian Customs vessel the Oceanic Viking off Indonesia despite Indonesian officials saying the men had been given written guarantees they could come to Australia if their refugee claims were approved.
But Mr Rudd said there were no deals.
"The underpinning assumption ... that there is some special arrangement - my advice is there is not," he told reporters.
"In terms of the time on each individual case, it will vary," he said.
"We have been quite clear about the fact that the resettlement responsibility for the individuals concerned first of all lies with UNHCR in terms of processing and secondly us working with the UNHCR and us working with the other 15 resettlement countries in terms of where any bona fide refugees then go."
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Barack Obama's man Kurt Campbell junks Kevin Rudd's Asia-Pacific plan.
June 12, 2009
KEVIN Rudd's proposal for an Australian-led Asia-Pacific community similar to the European Union has been slapped down by the top envoy chosen by Barack Obama to represent US interests in the region.
Kurt Campbell yesterday raised serious difficulties with the Prime Minister's plan, declaring that Asians hated to be compared with Europe.
Speaking at US Senate confirmation hearing before his expected swearing-in as assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, Dr Campbell said multilateral diplomacy in Asia was still "very shallow", and the success of any Asia-Pacific union would require deeper roots.
He made it clear that the US, rather than Australia, would see its role as harnessing and directing any large new institution that involved China and Japan.
In a surprise move, Mr Rudd announced 12 months ago that he wanted Australia to spearhead the creation of a regional institution spanning the Asia-Pacific region. Appointing veteran Australian diplomat Richard Woolcott to lobby regional leaders, Mr Rudd said his proposed union would include the US, China, Japan, India, Indonesia and other countries in the region. While the EU should not provide "an identikit model", the Prime Minister said he believed the Asia-Pacific region could learn much from the European grouping.
Only a fortnight ago, Mr Rudd demonstrated that his enthusiasm for setting up an Asia-Pacific union by 2020 remained undiminished, telling the annual Shangri La conference in Singapore that without a go-ahead for his proposal, he was concerned about "the possibility of strategic drift within our region".
Dr Campbell, a highly regarded policy expert who knows Australia well and is close to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, told the US Senate committee on foreign relations yesterday that Asia was "full of these meetings, both multilateral and mini-lateral", saying: "Everyone's got these."
He said he had met representatives of the Prime Minister when they were in Washington, and he was concerned about what growing numbers of such groups were asked to do.
"I know Asians hate to be compared with Europe, and it's a very different set of circumstances, and I appreciate that, but the diplomacy in Asia of a multilateral sort is still very shallow - and if it's to be successful it has to have deeper roots," Dr Campbell said.
Reported by The Australian in January as the US President's choice to fill his key Asia policy post, before the formal nomination was announced in April, Dr Campbell said greater interest in finding appropriate forums from China, Japan and the US, as well as Australia, was a healthy thing.
But he poured cold water on Mr Rudd's proposal that Australia should be at the "forefront", providing the ideas and drive to build a new regional architecture. "The key role of the US is to harness that energy and direct it in appropriate ways," Dr Campbell said.
A senior source close to the State Department said the remarks were a "put-down" of Mr Rudd's plan.
A spokesman for Mr Rudd told The Australian the Prime Minister had always said his "goal for an APC was long-term", and that he looked forward to working with the new Assistant Secretary of State.
He said Mr Rudd's proposal had prompted a range of comments from US officials. "I would ask not to reflect on just one official," he said.
Despite the Prime Minister's comments two weeks ago about the risk of strategic drift, the spokesman said yesterday Mr Rudd was an "unapologetic optimist" about the region's future and the role an Asia-Pacific community could play.
Dr Campbell, who is chief executive of the Centre for a New American Security, a Washington think tank, served as deputy assistant secretary of defence for Asia and Pacific affairs in the Clinton administration.
His blunt views on Mr Rudd's hope of leading a new regional organisation were expressed in response to a question from the Senate sub-committee's presiding chairman, Jim Webb, about Dr Campbell's familiarity with the Australian strategic initiative.
"Yeah, I had a chance to meet with the Prime Minister's representatives when they were through town, I had a chance to talk to them about it," Dr Campbell said.
"You know, everyone's got these - ASEAN plus three, we've got APEC, we've got the ASEAN regional forum. My concern is not in the multiplicity, almost exponential rise in these venues, but more in what these organisations are asked to do."
Mr Rudd's push for a new regional body has been described as his attempt to fashion a big organisation like the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group, established two decades ago after lobbying by Labor prime minister Bob Hawke.
The Rudd proposal, which amounts to adding India to the 21-nation APEC, would seek a regional free-trade agreement and co-operation on issues including terrorism and long-term energy and resource security.
Dr Campbell, who received a congratulatory note from Mr Rudd after his appointment was leaked, has had a lengthy association with Australia through the Australian American Leadership Dialogue, founded by former businessman Phil Scanlan, now Australia's consul-general in New York.