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Dinner in honour of Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Ryutaro Hashimoto, Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra, 28 April 1997: transcript of speech


Prime Minister and Mrs Hashimoto, Prime Minister and Mrs Howard, former Prime Ministers, excellencies, Parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, I second the motion.

You are indeed very welcome in this country, Prime Minister and Mrs Hashimoto. You are welcome for the country you represent and you are welcome for the people that you are. You are offering your people an inspired leadership and you are offering that too outside Japan in the increasingly interesting and complex Japanese diplomacy in the Pacific region generally, in South East Asia, and as a nation that operates at one of the flashpoints still in a globe which, over the last few years, has thankfully got very much better.

The Prime Minister outlined the significance of the economic and people-to-people elements of the relationship which over the last 40 years Australia has come to enjoy with Japan. The statistics are impressive - $27 billion worth of two-way trade, $50 billion worth of Japanese investment in Australia, an increasing amount of Australian investment in Japan. The people-to-people links, the 800,000 tourists that have come to underpin that from Japan to Australia. And those extraordinary statistics, which I don't think many in Japan would be aware of in terms of Australians who have taken an interest in learning the Japanese language, Australia has more Japanese language students than any other country in the world, outside Japan. In 1990, 50% more students were studying Japanese in Australia than in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada combined. Our two countries have come to understand each other much more deeply than anyone might have anticipated over these last 40 years, and I do agree with what the Prime Minister had to say that the then Deputy Prime Minister took with a great deal of personal courage, launched that formal trading arrangement.

But it is customary for us to talk in terms of trade and these people-to-people links. What is not so customary is to retail other facts about the relationship between Australia and Japan which have developed particularly in the last six years. And the Prime Minister alluded to some of them. And that is as Japan has come to initiate more and more a view about what the nature of relationships ought to be in the Pacific region, in South East Asia, to assert some of that global leadership that has come with a serious candidature for permanent status on the Security Council of the United Nations, then it has been apparent that the perspectives that we have for the appropriate arrangements for a peaceful and prosperous region are very close indeed.

And we have enjoyed, we did when we were in office, enjoyed the support of Japan in many of the initiatives that we undertook in relation to APEC and the content of what is now one of the most significant regional arrangements globally. It's reflected also in a preparedness on our part to enter into at least the beginnings of a security dialogue. And I hope that, that will be a continuing feature, as a result of your visit, a continuing feature of Ministerial as well as bureaucratic-level discussions because we do have some things to talk about.

As the Cold War receded more and more it became obvious that it is the nations of this region which will determine the relationships that exist in this region. And whether or not all the nations of the region feel comfortable in the regional arrangements is in no small measure going to be a dependency of the character of the attitudes that are adopted by nations like ours and nations like yours.

The Prime Minister referred to the question of engagement with China. In fact, we have engaged with China for some considerable period of time. We're talking here not just of engagement, but a set of arrangements that allows what is a nation of great significance to feel comfortable and its interests served by a peaceful set of regional arrangements. And much depends on an ability to back organisations like the ASEAN Regional Forum, which Japan does, and to back other regional initiatives which from time to time have emerged in that area.

It's quite evident too from the Prime Minister's remarks that we do not have any problems with raising issues of potential sensitivity and significance to us. I wholeheartedly agree with the concerns that he expressed, contemporary international issues related to greenhouse gas effects. And there is now a confidence in Australia that we can raise these issues and have them understood in a sophisticated way by Japan and obtain from Japan some effective support.

Well, those are the generalities. But I want to conclude with some matters related to yourself, Prime Minister. All of us in politics in this country understand factionalism. It is a phenomenon that is - rampant's not the right word, because it's often a very effective mechanism for democratic control - but we also, as politicians, watch with awe and amazement when somebody who is not associated with factional arrangements, nevertheless, manages to run a very effective government.

And your progress, politically, in Japan, has been a most interesting one for observers of your country and the effectiveness with which you've initiated domestic reforms, the effectiveness with which you've been able to handle the extraordinarily sensitive matters that are raised from time to time in your country in regard to that important relationship that you have with the United States. It's been an interesting development in Japanese political leadership, and a very good one, I might say, not just in terms of your domestic arrangements, which are your business and not ours, but in terms of the stance that Japan has been able to pursue in international diplomacy.

So, finally, I do very much join with the Prime Minister in his welcome, on behalf of the federal Parliamentary Labor Party. I express the appreciation of the arrangements and the relationship that we enjoyed in 13 years of government. I particularly appreciate your capacity to befriend and establish a close working relationship with Australian Prime Ministers. You've done that with two of ours now and both, I'm sure, have benefited greatly from that, as have our two countries. And I hope very much, along with the Prime Minister, to see you back here again.

Thank you.