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John Howard' diplomatic failures catch up with him in Kuala Lumpur.

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KEVIN RUDD M.P. Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and International Security


John Howard’s diplomatic failures will potentially have profound implications for Australia’s long-term economic and strategic interests.

Over the past 10 years, Howard has presided over the marginalisation of APEC as the Asia Pacific’s principal regional organisation after he failed to engage APEC to respond to the Asian financial crisis in 1997. An alternative grouping in the form of ASEAN Plus Three then emerged to fill vacuum left by APEC.

ASEAN Plus Three has in turn now initiated the establishment of the East Asian Summit which unlike APEC excludes the United States.

Having finally acceded to a non-aggression pact with East Asia to gain access to the first East Asian Summit, Howard now looks like being excluded from development of an East Asian Community.

The point of gaining access to the East Asian Summit was to enable Australia to participate from the beginning in the development of the architecture and rules of an East Asian Community - a community which may over time may evolve in the direction of the European Union.

This argument forms the core of Labor’s position in arguing from the beginning for the Howard Government, having been party to the marginalisation of APEC, to become a member of the East Asian Summit in order to shape this new core element of the region’s overarching political, economic and strategic architecture.

The Foreign Minister belatedly accepted Labor’s logic when he said in July: “…it is vitally important for Australia to be part of that East Asian community. It would be most unfortunate if Australia was left out of it…”

But Australia’s chance to be a part of an East Asian Community was dealt a fundamental blow when the Malaysian Prime Minister said yesterday “…you are

talking about a community of East Asians, and I don’t know how the Australians could regard themselves as East Asians.”

There are also reports from Kuala Lumpur that the machinery being established to develop the East Asian Community concept will exclude Australia’s participation.

The irony of Howard’s diplomatic failures is that having allowed APEC to wither on the vine and watching ASEAN Plus Three to increasingly take its place, he has now belatedly declared that APEC remains the premier regional institution.

Australia must now harness its diplomatic horsepower in East Asia to turn this outcome around and ensure that before the second East Asian Summit we become part of the negotiating arrangements for the development of an East Asian Community.

Ends. 15 December 2005

Media contact: Alister Jordan 0417 605 823