Jun 11, 2008

Rudd's Clumsy Asian Diplomacy

We found this interesting commentary on Australian foreign policy under Rudd in the Wall Street Journal. We recommend the entire article but what interested us most was this comment on Rudd's Asia Pacific Community idea (was NZ consulted on this?)

Further muddying the waters, Mr. Rudd last week proposed the establishment of an Asia-Pacific Community by 2020. Little detail was provided about what such a group would actually do; about the only thing we know for sure, following media questioning, is that he isn't proposing a single regional currency. It could well be a pie in the sky suggestion, but the mere fact that the government is suggesting such a thing has potential diplomatic ramifications.
The problem is not just that Mr. Rudd's grand regional vision lacks detail and smacks of policy made on the fly. And it certainly isn't that the region's existing multilateral institutions are so well-designed and on top of the challenges facing the region – whether financial meltdowns, natural disasters or security flashpoints – that there's no need for enhanced cooperation.
Rather, it is that Asia's stability and prosperity – and a successful Australian foreign policy – continue to be underpinned by strong bilateral relationships. It is democracies such as Australia, the U.S., Japan and India that work together in partnerships to provide the overwhelming majority of the region's "public goods" – as they did after the 2004 tsunami. The best way to ensure that the Asia-Pacific region remains peaceful and continues to prosper is to work with our democratic partners in particular to ensure these sinews of regional cooperation are kept in good repair.
The Rudd government's clumsy early diplomacy has set back this agenda. There is a place for selective, well-considered multilateral diplomacy and for improving the efficiency of existing organizations, particularly the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation association. But even though Mr. Rudd has already shown at home that he is a master of political symbolism, the last thing the region needs is more grand visions, envoys and international conferences. The brand of "activist middle power diplomacy" he espouses is more likely to succeed if he leaves the gesture politics at home and concentrates on first earning the trust and respect, and then perhaps the support, of Australia's natural partners.