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Thayer Australia Proposes an Asia Pacific Community

Thayer Australia Proposes an Asia Pacific Community

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Published by Carlyle Alan Thayer
An analysis of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's proposal to create an Asia Pacific Community by 2020. Building on either APEC or the East Asia Summit (EAS) are possibilities. The author favours the EAS because of its small size and level (heads of government and state).
An analysis of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's proposal to create an Asia Pacific Community by 2020. Building on either APEC or the East Asia Summit (EAS) are possibilities. The author favours the EAS because of its small size and level (heads of government and state).

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Published by: Carlyle Alan Thayer on Jul 13, 2009
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 1“Kevin Rudd’s Multi-Layered Asia Pacific Community Initiative”Carlyle A. Thayer*
 Australasia ASEAN Business Journal
[inaugural issue May 29, 2009]
 
In April of this year Thailand was host to the 14
th
ASEAN and RelatedSummits, a weekend gathering of government leaders from sixteen regionalstates. The agenda called for a series of summit meetings, first among theASEAN ten leaders, then by separate bilateral summits between ASEAN andChina, Japan and India, followed by the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) summitinvolving China, Japan and South Korea, and finally a meeting of all regionalstates associated with the East Asia Summit (EAS) process. The EAScomprises ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and NewZealand.The ASEAN-related summits was no ordinary leadership gathering. ASEANand China were scheduled to announce the completion of a Free TradeAgreement after several years of negotiations. Rivals Japan and China wereexpected to announce major contributions to a regional currency swaparrangement. And equally significant, the ASEAN summits directly followedthe meeting of the G20 in London where a global response to the financialcrisis was mapped out. The decisions of the G20 were expected to shape aregional response.ASEAN summitry was set back when red shirted supporters of former primeminister Thaksin occupied the conference venue. Thailand was forced tocancel the summit at the eleventh hour. Asian leaders who had alreadyarrived were airlifted to safety by helicopter. Australia’s Prime Minister KevinRudd was forced to turn his VIP aircraft around and return home. Thismarked the third occasion that Thai domestic turmoil has led to thepostponement of the ASEAN-related summit meetings.The cancellation of the East Asian Summit denied Prime Minister Rudd amajor opportunity to further promote his proposal to create an Asia PacificCommunity by 2020. Rudd first announced his initiative in June 2008 in anaddress to the Asian Society in Sydney. His central premise was that ‘none ofour existing regional mechanisms as currently configured’ were capable ofengaging ‘in the full spectrum of dialogue, cooperation and action oneconomic and political matters and future challenges to security’. Ruddtherefore proposed a regional institution that spanned the entire Asia-Pacificregion capable of achieving these objectives.Rudd appears to have been motivated by three major considerations. First, hewas consciously following in the footsteps of his Australian Labor Partypredecessors in promoting Australia’s engagement with the region. None wasmore successful than Bob Hawke who promoted Asia Pacific EconomicCooperation (APEC). Second, Rudd sought to promote Australia’s interests asa proactive middle power. Third, he wanted to ensure that both China and
 
 2the United States were drawn into an effective regional framework designedto cope with current and future economic and strategic issues.Rudd’s proposal was aimed at overcoming the compartmentalisation ofexisting regional institutions by creating an effective leadership forum wheremajor political, economic and security issues could be dealt with holisticallyrather than piecemeal. For example, APEC has focused mainly on tradeliberalisation, while the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) has dealt withconfidence-building measures. The APT and the EAS processes overlap inmembership and their explicit roles have yet to be clearly defined.There are several major challenges that must be faced if Rudd’s vision is tobecome a reality. The first concerns what specific organisational form the AsiaPacific Community should take. Nearly a year after it was first proposed, ithas become apparent that there is little regional backing for the creation of anew regional institution. But there is support, however, for modifying orexpanding existing multilateral arrangements in order to create a moreeffective regional architecture.Both APEC and the EAS have emerged as the most likely candidates. EitherAPEC or EAS could be upgraded to serve as the foundation for Rudd’s AsiaPacific Community, or both could be upgraded and assume greaterresponsibility, respectively, for economic and political-security matters.The second major challenge concerns membership. In 2008, Rudd initiallynominated the United States, Japan, China, India, Indonesia ‘and other statesin the region’ as members. As a result of Australian diplomatic soundings, itis clear that if Rudd’s proposal is to get off the ground ASEAN must be at itscore. This means that Myanmar, viewed by many as a pariah state, would beincluded along with poverty-stricken Laos and Cambodia.The question of membership could be addressed by expanding existinginstitutions such as APEC, by including India, or the EAS, by adding theUnited States and Russia. In either case, adding additional members to theseinstitutions raises the complication of deciding what to do with countries thatbelong to one but not both bodies. APEC includes Hong Kong and Taiwan aswell as Mexico, Chile and Peru, none of whom are participants in the EAS.Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the European Unionare all members of the ARF and could legitimately claim they should beincluded in any new regional architecture.Because the EAS has a smaller membership it is viewed as a more suitablecandidate for community building in the Asia Pacific than APEC. Russiawants in and the Obama Administration has already signalled it will pursueaccession to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Accession to thistreaty is a prerequisite for a seat on the EAS.If a consensus emerged to build on the EAS process, progress is likely to beevolutionary. The EAS could gradually develop from a forum where heads ofgovernment and state discuss issues where economic, political and security

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