Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing games last week with many other international leaders. On his way home, Mr Rudd stopped over in both South Korea and Singapore to strengthen ties between Australia and the two nations. It was Prime Minister Rudd's second recent visit to the Asian region after his three nation tour of Japan, China and Indonesia in June.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
Since the 1970s, Australia has been looking more and more towards Asia as the key to its economic future. China and Japan are already two of Australia's biggest trading partners. The growing economy of South Korea is gaining importance in Australia's trade relations in the region and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stopped over in Seoul on his way home from Beijing in his first ever visit to the Asian nation.
"This is Australia's fourth largest trading partner, fourth largest export market I should say, and for us, therefore, it’s a major economy, which means a lot for Australia in the future," Rudd said.
The Australian government is keen to increase trade with South Korea and during talks in the South Korean capital, Prime Minister Rudd and South Korean President, Lee Myung Bak, gave in principle support to a free trade agreement between the two nations. Prime Minister Rudd said that Australia and Korea had agreed to a "modest first step" on negations which will begin shortly.
Rudd said that the sale of technology products and investment in the Korean economy was very important for Australia. The Prime-Minister visited a medical centre in Seoul, where Australian Cochlear artificial hearing ear implants have helped many Korean children to properly hear again.
Already, several Asian students from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and China are studying in Australia, and the education sector is another area which Rudd is keen to sell to the Koreans in a big way. Australia is also keen to increase security co-operation with the Northern Asian nation and Kevin Rudd criticized plans for a nuclear free Korean peninsula as going nowhere, due to North Korean "intransigence".
Call for Asia-pacific forum
After Korea, Prime Minister Rudd stopped off in Singapore, where defense co-operation was also high on the agenda in bi-lateral talks with Business leaders and his Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Lung. The two leaders signed a defense memorandum of understanding, to strengthen military ties. Rudd said, “This in term will underline the strength and depth and breadth of the existing security policy co-operation, between our two armed forces and our two governments"
Economic links between Australia and Singapore are already very strong. Prime Minister Rudd also hopes to build on the Free Trade agreement with Singapore, Australia signed in 2003. Mr. Rudd is also using the Asian visit to promote his government's vision for a future Asia-Pacific community, which was foreshadowed in the Prime Ministers recent visit to Asia. Kevin Rudd warned that the alternative to such a treaty would be the growing fragmentation in spheres of interest between the region, the United States and China.
And Kevin Rudd also showed off his Mandarin speaking skills on a visit to open an Australian international school in the island nation, where he sought to promote the learning of Asian languages.
At home the Australian government is seeking to further promote the learning of Asian languages and culture at Australian educational institutions. This would promote intercultural ties and understanding with the region that Australia is becoming ever closely linked with economically.