Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has this week been on a second tour to Asia after visiting China earlier this year. This time he visited Japan and Australia's nearest Asian neighbour, Indonesia. His China trip had caused concerns in the region that Australia was getting closer to Beijing, at the expense of other major countries.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd advocates an Asian variant of the EU
Kevin Rudd showed off his credentials as Australia's Asia-Pacific-oriented prime minister for the 21st century with a tour of Japan and Indonesia this week. He is a fluent speaker of Mandarin but also has a smattering of Japanese, which he used to impress a gathering of dignitaries in Kyoto.
Later in Hiroshima, destroyed by the world’s first nuclear attack on August 6 1945, Rudd outlined Australia’s proposal to establish an international commission on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
Rudd thinks that the current non-proliferation treaty is outdated, as it does not include nations which have recently acquired nuclear weapons such as Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and potentially Iran.
“There are two courses of action available to the community of nations: to allow the NPT to continue to fragment, or to exert every global effort to restore and to defend the treaty,” Rudd said.
Strong multilateral institution
In preference to current Asia-Pacific bodies such as APEC, Rudd thinks a strong multilateral institution is needed to help the region maintain security, foster trade and respond to natural disasters and terrorism.
“The core question is: What should the long-term vision be?” he asked before leaving Australia. “We believe that we need to anticipate the historic changes in our region and seek to shape them, rather than simply reacting to them.”
“We need to have a vision for an Asia-Pacific community. A vision that embraces a regional institution that spans the entire Asia-Pacific region, including the US, Japan, China, India, Indonesia and the other states of our region.”
But Australian historian Antony Howe has his doubts about this vision for Asia: “You’re looking at 30 to 40 countries, many of which have no cultural similarities, the legal frameworks are totally different. It’s a hugely different concept from the European Union, which loosely-speaking, you can say has been around for about 1000 years with the Roman Empire.”
No clash of civilisations
However, Kevin Rudd, a committed Christian does not believe that cultural and religious differences, as argued in Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” thesis, hinder countries of different faiths from cooperating in the political and economic sphere.
He cited the mostly Muslim nation of Indonesia: "There is nothing inevitable about the clash of civilisations, but in fact there are huge commonalities between us, which we need to build on. Interfaith dialogue between our countries and more broadly across the globe, is an area where our two countries will have further to say in the months ahead."
Cooperation in the environmental field also played an important role during Mr Rudd's Asia tour. He signed a bilateral agreement with the Japanese Toyota motor company to build hybrid, or so called “green cars”, at its factory near Melbourne. Australia also promised to help Indonesia save the rainforests. Mr Rudd returns this weekend.