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Downer on relations with Asia.

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Downer On Relations With Asia Laurie Brereton - Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs

Media Statement - 16 May 2000

Foreign Minister Downer has again demonstrated the Howard Government's predilection for putting domestic political message sending ahead of our nation's long-term engagement with Asia", the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurie Brereton, said today.

"Speaking at the Business Asia Awards in Sydney last night, Mr Downer expounded the Government's approach to Asia relations in self-congratulatory terms which can only embarrass Australia."

"According to Mr Downer, Australia's engagement with Asia is all about 'proving our mettle'. This is another ill-considered phrase from a Foreign Minister with no sense of how his remarks, and those of his Prime Minister, ricochet around our region to the detriment of Australia's relationships and interests."

"Again and again the Howard Government talks about regional engagement as if it is a trial of strength, a test of Australia's prowess vis-à-vis our neighbours. The Government's message is that Australia need only engage with our Asian neighbours on terms of our choosing and that Asian countries should be grateful for our interventions."

"Coming on top of last year's Howard Doctrine, the repudiation of the concept of a 'special relationships' with our Asian neighbours and Mr Downer's recent exposition of 'cultural' versus 'practical' regionalism, the Government's approach could not be more counterproductive."

"Mr Downer claims that the Government has 'positioned Australia as a key player in the region's future.' How can this be so if Australia is not engaged in the emerging forums of East Asian regional cooperation, especially ASEAN+3? This vital question was not addressed by Mr Downer who in a remarkable omission for a speech on Australia's engagement with Asia had absolutely nothing to say about future regional cooperation."

"One might have also thought that Foreign Minister Downer would have used last night's speech to say something substantive about Australia's bilateral relationship with Indonesia."

"True to his form, all Mr Downer had to offer was the utter banality that 'we must expect some ups and downs, reflecting not least Indonesia's changed political circumstances, but the trend is overwhelmingly positive.'"

"There was not one word from the Foreign Minister about what Australia could or should do to build new ties between Australia and a democratic Indonesia."

"Instead of proving their mettle, Mr Downer and Mr Howard appear capable only of producing a foreign policy muddle.

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.