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Transcript 21457

Address to the Asialink - ANU National Forum: Australia's Engagement with Asia: A New Paradigm

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 13/08/2004

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 21457

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Introduction

I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk about Australia's close and cooperative relations with the other nations of our region.

Events such as this Summit provide an opportunity to build understanding within our own community about the region we live in and how important it is to the future security and prosperity of the Australian people. And I congratulate the Australian National University and Asialink for this, and their many other initiatives, to encourage greater contact and cooperation between Australia and her neighbours.

The excellent relations we enjoy in the region today owe much to the strong bonds and associations forged by what is often termed 'Track 2' diplomacy - the contact and discussions between individuals and non#8209;government institutions.

Governments, of course, have a role to play in supporting and encouraging the development of these people-to-people links. We see government funding for institutions such as the International Centre for Excellence in Asia Pacific Studies and the Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy at the ANU as an important contribution.

And today I am pleased to advise that the National Centre for Language Training, for which I announce government seed funding of $4.6 million, will be established by a consortium of universities and TAFE institutes across Australia. Headed by NewSouth Global, a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of New South Wales, the Centre will help Australians, especially in business, to build the practical language skills and cultural knowledge that they need to engage more effectively in international markets.

Vigorous, open debate about any government's foreign policy is crucial. This is especially so in respect of Australia's links with the region, so vital to our long-term prosperity and security.

In that spirit, let me say that the great canard levelled at this government is that the deepening of our relations with the United States in recent years has come at the expense of closer engagement with Asia.

This charge proceeds on a false assumption - the false assumption that there is some inevitable zero-sum game where closer relations with the United States are inimical to improved relations in the region.

It is wrong when one notes this government's success in forging a strategic economic relationship with China. It ignores our trade agreements with Singapore and Thailand.

It is misleading at a time when we have put relations with Indonesia on a more solid, cooperative and sustainable footing. It is equally an error now when we have agreed on a scoping study for a free trade agreement (FTA) with Malaysia - the country long seen as the least receptive to Australia's closer engagement with the region.

An Australia seen by both sides of politics in Washington as a close and trusted partner is an Australia with enhanced influence, not least in our region - whether the issue is the fight against terrorism in Southeast Asia, events on the Korean Peninsula, or longer term trends in regional power relations.

The relationships we forge with other nations and our position on specific issues should, and under my government always will, be determined by consideration of Australia's national interest - and in accordance with Australian values.

And so it should be, because any disconnect between foreign policy and national values jeopardises the domestic community support that is absolutely crucial to achieving Australia's foreign policy objectives.

In my view, much Australian commentary about the region rests on a second false assumption - that there is some singular entity called 'Asia' which we should approach always and everywhere with the same level of intensity independent of Australia's interests.

The government's commitment to close engagement in Asia proceeds on the basis of mutual respect. And a key part of this engagement has been our willingness to appreciate Asia's diversity.

As I have said previously, simple bromides masquerading as grand strategy fail to take account of Asia's diversity. So too they distort Australia's position as a Western country with a unique network of political, economic and people-to-people links with Asia. I make no apology for the fact that we focus our engagement on those relationships and issues that matter most to Australia's interests.

In this context, I count it as one of the great successes of this country's foreign relations that we have simultaneously been able to strengthen our long-standing ties with the United States of America, yet at the same time continue to build a very close relationship with China.

That achievement was symbolised last year in the national Parliament when on successive days the House Representatives and the Senate were addressed by the President of the United States and the President of China.

I note Professor Tony Milner's observation that 'the more we engage in our region - the more we interact in commerce, education, tourism and diplomacy - the more we tend to recognise the characteristics that distinguish us in the region'. He is also right to say that those differences do not inhibit us forming strong bonds with Asian nations.

In fact, I would argue those characteristics are valued and appreciated by many of our neighbours.

And just as we expect our neighbours to respect our values and our institutions, we have tried to develop a greater understanding of, and sensitivity to, the historic and cultural foundations of their societies.

Our focus has been on the common interests between Australia and the countries of Asia, while acknowledging that there will be times when we have differences over particular issues. This mature and practical approach to engagement continues to bear fruit.

Securing the region against terrorism

Nowhere has this been more obvious than the close cooperation which has developed on security issues, especially between Australia and the nations of Southeast Asia.

International solidarity and close collaboration involving governments and regional and multilateral organisations are critical if the fight against terrorism is to be successful. In this regard, Australia has been resolute in its commitment to strengthen multilateral and well as bilateral cooperation, for instance in APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

There are few more important tools at the present time than the network of nine bilateral counter-terrorism arrangements Australia has put in place with regional neighbours. Focusing as they do on law enforcement, border control and port security, they are the foundation for practical operational#8209;level cooperation between police, intelligence agencies, security authorities, customs and immigration services, defence forces, central banks and financial units.

Our strategic engagement has also been supported by an extensive network of bilateral security dialogues. Over the last eight and half years we have expanded the network to include key regional partners #8209; Japan, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and India #8209; in addition to the long-standing arrangements with China and Indonesia. And we look forward to arranging our first politico-military talks with Malaysia sometime this year.

Australia has continued to work hard to strengthen its defence cooperation relationships with key regional partners in ASEAN. And it is worth noting that our contribution to defence cooperation in Southeast Asia is second only to that provided by the United States.

Australia has also recognised that helping countries develop their own capabilities to fight terrorism is as important as operational-level cooperation.

In addition to capacity building packages for Indonesia and the Philippines, Australia is contributing $36.8 million to the Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation in Jakarta. This international education and training institution will greatly increase the ability of our region to respond to the complex challenges posed by the operation of international terrorists in our region.

But perhaps of even more immediate significance are the growing connections we have been able to forge with the region's police forces. Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers are now posted in Bangkok, Chiang-Mai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Manila, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh, Dili, Rangoon and Singapore.

Ultimately, the success of the region's response to the terrorist threat will depend on the degree to which the region's police and security agencies can effectively cooperate. Because it is at this working level where the greatest gains can be made, and the greatest dividends secured.

Long-term regional stability

Along with the challenge of terrorism, North Korea's nuclear posturing represents yet another ingredient which creates a degree of instability and tension in our region.

Australia is responding at two levels #8209; we are engaging fully and energetically in patient diplomacy, but we have also urged those nations most likely to influence the behaviour of North Korea - South Korea, Japan, Russia, the United States and China - to speak in a firm and united fashion.

We believe that China, in particular, has a crucial role to play in the process. And we have been encouraged by China's constructive contribution to finding a peaceful solution, especially its pivotal role in hosting the Six Party talks. Indeed, Mr Downer will be in Pyongyang next week urging the North Korean leadership to grasp this opportunity and reap the ensuing long-term social and economic benefits of cooperation.

Australia also welcomes the increased effort by Japan, under Prime Minister Koizumi's leadership, to make a greater contribution to regional and international security.

We greatly appreciate Japan's increased willingness to contribute peacekeeping operations - including in East Timor where Japanese and Australian personnel worked closely together. And, more recently, Japan has made a significant contribution to coalition efforts to help the Iraqi people build a peaceful, democratic future for their nation.

Following the commencement of a trilateral dialogue on security-related issues with Japan and the United States, I expect that Australia's security links with Japan will become even more important.

Japan and Korea's forthright response to the events of 11th September and their firm support for coalition operations against Iraq are reminders of the close relations which a number of nations in our region have with the United States and our shared interest in ensuring continued American engagement.

It must be understood that the ANZUS alliance does not isolate us from our neighbours, it adds to our value. ANZUS combines with the other security alliances and the arrangements the US has forged throughout Asia #8209; not only with Japan and Korea, but also with Thailand and the Philippines #8209; to form a strategic framework that helps keep the whole region stable.

It is self evident that the relationship between the United States and China will be extremely important to the stability of our region. Our aim is to see calm and constructive dialogue between the United States and China. The government recognises that, as a nation which has different but nonetheless close relationships with both countries, Australia is well placed to promote that constructive dialogue.

Our relationship with the United States is well known and well understood. But I have also worked very hard as Prime Minister to build an enduring relationship with China - a relationship that is mature, practical and substantial.

At the ministerial level our political relationship is more vibrant than it has ever been. Most members of the Australian Cabinet have visited China. Similarly, almost all the members of China's Politburo Standing Committee have been to Australia.

The government's approach to China has been based on three key elements: maintaining high level contact, frank dialogue, and a shared commitment to constructive relations based on mutual respect. That does not mean side-stepping issues where we differ - that would be inconsistent with our values and the very notion of mutual respect. But it does mean that we agree to manage those issues in a mature and sensitive way. Increasingly we are being recognised as a trusted partner not just by China but by the region as a whole.

Economic Dividend

This is in part because we share an ambition to increase the wealth and prosperity of the region and its people.

Australia now has a strong and sophisticated economy. And we are respected in the region for it. It is only because the government ensured Australia's economic prosperity and strength that we could, along with Japan, commit some $3 billion dollars to all three regional IMF programmes in response to the East Asian financial crisis of 1997.

Diverse as the economies of our region are, there is once again a growing appreciation of the importance of trade liberalisation and competition as drivers for dynamic economic growth.

The government recognises that the best way to achieve open markets is through multilateral trade agreements. Undoubtedly they provide the most comprehensive outcomes. But in this uncertain and messy world it would be foolish to put all our eggs in one basket. My doctrine has always been to look for opportunities that will deliver for Australia. And if we can negotiate a bilateral deal that delivers tangible benefits now - we will go for it.

Australia actively pursued free trade agreements with the countries of Southeast Asia - either collectively or bilaterally - long before we started negotiations with the United States.

Through the hard work of the Trade Minister, Mark Vaile, and the Australian negotiators, we were able to finalise FTAs with Singapore and Thailand in 2002 and 2004 respectively.

These agreements are indicative of Australia's increasing engagement with our Southeast Asian neighbours. And the gains are not exclusively economic, because the resulting increased level of contact will inevitably encourage greater cross-cultural exchange and awareness.

The momentum from these agreements is building.

During her recent visit to Australia, the Malaysian trade minister, Rafidah Aziz, and Mr Vaile agreed that Australia and Malaysia should explore the possibility of an FTA. We expect the scoping studies to be complete by the first quarter of 2005.

I am very enthusiastic about an agreement with Malaysia. It is our 10th largest trading partner and a Malaysia-Australia FTA would give Australian companies yet another excellent platform for sales and production in Southeast Asia.

I am also pleased to accept an invitation to attend the ASEAN leaders' summit in Laos, in November to explore strengthening economic ties between the ten ASEAN members and the Closer Economic Relationship partners - Australia and New Zealand.

Most of our neighbours are discussing or negotiating FTAs with one or more countries. Australia's ability to finalise an FTA with United States has also strengthened our capacity and attractiveness when seeking to negotiate FTAs with countries in Asia.

Moreover this is an opportunity most would envy. It would be grossly irresponsible of the government not to be exploring how we can expand our trading relations with the world's largest and most dynamic economies.

And that is why we are seeking to strengthen our bilateral trade relationships with two of the powerhouse economies of North Asia - Japan and China.

Japan's economy, which again is showing signs of buoyancy, is still the second largest in the world, and will be for some time. It is more than 50 per cent larger than the next largest economy, Germany, and is still three times the size of China's.

Japan remains Australia's best customer. It has been our largest export market for many years and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Our bilateral relationship with Japan has generated substantial benefits for Australia #8209; but we are not complacent. The government is constantly looking for ways to strengthen our ties.

The Trade and Economic Framework, signed during my visit to Japan in July 2003, commits both countries to work towards comprehensive bilateral trade and investment liberalisation. A Joint Study to advance this objective is underway.

Similarly, the government recently concluded a Trade and Economic Framework with China, which includes a commitment to undertake a detailed joint study into the feasibility and benefits of an Australia-China FTA.

China has experienced remarkable economic development over the past twenty years - development that has seen it become one of the world's most dynamic economies and one of Australia's most important economic partners.

Increased opportunities in China from its surging economy do not, however, mean diminished opportunities in Japan. Trade and investment links between China and Japan themselves are growing strongly. In fact, the growth in Japanese exports to China is helping fuel Japan's economic recovery.

The Australian and Chinese economies strongly complement each other. China is already our number one market for iron, steel and wool. In 2002 with the signing of the $25 billion Guangdong LNG deal, we established a long-term energy partnership.

That deal is in many ways symbolic of the standing Australia has in the region as a reliable, stable partner. And the government is committed to continuing to promote Australia as a major energy provider, ready and able to help fuel the continued expansion of the Japanese and Chinese economies.

Energy supply is also an area where we see potential for growth in our already very strong and dynamic economic relationship with South Korea.

The strength and consistent quality of Australia's education industry is also widely recognised in our region. In 2003, more than 190,000 Asian students were studying in Australian educational institutions. Australia is also a leader in establishing joint education projects in#8209;country, with programmes already underway in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

Last year, educational activities with our Asian neighbours generated some $4.4 billion income for the Australian economy.

Opportunity

But we are never complacent. We are constantly assessing regional opportunities. Increasingly, we are looking to our west and observing India's growing political and economic weight. And India is looking east - seeking to forge stronger links with our region.

Indications are that India is set to become one of Australia's most important regional and bilateral partners.

Australia is already the third largest destination for Indian students seeking higher professional skills. And new initiatives in educational exchange hold particular promise for strengthening not only commercial links but the people-to-people links which are so vital to growing the relationship.

India and Australia enjoy similar democratic institutions, legal, financial and governmental structures. We are both members of the Commonwealth of Nations and strong advocates of that organisation's democratic principles. We share a common language and, of course, a passion for the great game of cricket.

The Indian Ocean may divide us geographically but its strategic importance to Australia and the region as a whole is a very significant unifying factor in the relationship.

Our common security interests, especially in relation to combating and responding to international terrorism and other transnational crime, led to last year's MOU on Counter Terrorism. Not surprisingly both nations are very focused on the maritime security of the Indian Ocean.

Our economies have strong complementarities. India is already Australia's seventh largest merchandise export market and Australia is one of the top ten investors in India.

As you can see, solid ground work has been laid. And I am looking forward to seeing considerable benefit accrue to both nations, over the next decade, from the continued strengthening and growth of the bilateral relationship.

Responsibility

But being a part of the Asia Pacific is not simply about opportunity, it is also about responsibility. Over the last eight and a half years, Australia has demonstrated its willingness to contribute - as with our response to the financial crisis of 1997 and our involvement in East Timor.

I am also very proud of Australia's recent participation in the assistance mission to the Solomon Islands. The RAMSI intervention to which so many countries in the Pacific contributed has been a wonderful success. And we are particularly pleased by the fact that it was not a solo Australian effort. It was an effort to which many countries in the Pacific Islands contributed very generously.

It worked precisely because the intervention was large enough to be taken seriously, both in the Solomons and the broader Pacific community.

I believe Australia does have a special responsibility, as a wealthy nation, to help. The Solomons intervention and the Enhanced Co-operation Programme in Papua New Guinea reflect a decisive change in both the tone and direction of Australian Government policy in the Pacific. We now see ourselves as more active, more engaged, more willing to help, but reasonably seeking reforms and better governance as conditions of that assistance.

The government's aid programme has played an integral role in Australia's efforts to promote regional development and stability. In 2003-04 over 61% of Australia's official development assistance, more than $1.2 billion, was directed to countries in the Asia Pacific.

I see our role as a friend and partner, helping our neighbours to build their own futures. And that is why I am very pleased today to announce a significant expansion of the Australia Youth Ambassador for Development Programme.

The government is committing an extra $24.5 million over the next fours years with funding for the programme essentially doubling by 2006. Currently, there are 230 Youth Ambassadors on short-term assignment in developing countries throughout the Asia Pacific. By 2006 there will be some 400 young Australians selected for overseas development assignments.

Not only do these young people make a terrific contribution to the development of our region, but they are playing a really positive role in strengthening mutual understanding between Australia and our neighbours.

And I know that our best and brightest have been attracted to this programme. Last week in Samoa, I had the pleasure of meeting Amy Wells, a chemical engineer, who is currently assisting the Samoan Ministry of Works. And one of the young officers from my own department, Simon Greenacre, is off to China next month to assist them on issues arising from WTO negotiations.

Conclusion

So again, I invite you to examine our record and see how this government is strategically building Australia's future in the Asia Pacific. The government has always understood the imperative of close engagement with the region. The relationships forged with the nations and peoples of the Asia Pacific are, and will always be, of great concern to the destiny and security of Australia.

The strong bonds we have formed with the nations of Asia combine with Australia's great links with Europe and North America to put Australia in a very special position - a position I believe of great advantage in the twenty-first century.

[ends]

Transcript 21457