Australia urges region to back Asia-Pacific Community

Last Updated: Saturday, November 14, 2009 - 12:01

Singapore: Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd pressed APEC members on Saturday to back his proposal for the creation of a new regional group that will embrace political, security and economic issues by 2020.
"Our proposal for an Asia-Pacific Community seeks to do this," he said ahead of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit that includes US President Barack Obama and his Chinese, Japanese and Russian counterparts.

Rudd said no existing institution was designed to address the full range of issues facing the region.

Political and security issues are not part of the mission of APEC, which was founded 20 years ago to promote free trade and investment among Pacific Rim nations.

Asian diplomats say there are differences over the roles of China and the United States, the top military powers in the Pacific, in any enlarged European Union-style group that would handle political and security issues.

Japanese Premier Yukio Hatoyama has pushed for an alternative East Asian community but has been vague about the role of the United States.

"It makes sense for us as we think of ourselves for the next quarter of a century as a region to have America inextricably involved in what we are doing, however our debate about regional institutions may unfold," Rudd said.

The Australian proposal "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," he said.

APEC is "just a gathering of economies" with no political or security agenda but the proposed community would cover those issues as well as other concerns like climate change, he added.

The existing East Asian Summit, built around the Association of Southeast Asians, excludes the United States, Rudd noted.

He said there was a need for a broader grouping to "avoid the re-emergence of fundamental strategic rifts" in the region.

"Right now we have a vast array of institutions, each of them performing a critical and valuable role," he said.

The Australian leader said there was a need for an "inclusive, long-term regional architecture, both economic, political and security" that includes the United States.

He underscored the importance of the American market to Asian exporters and the "stabilising presence" of the US military, which he credited for helping avert any major conflict in the region over the past 30 years.

Bureau Report

First Published: Saturday, November 14, 2009 - 12:01

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