Two years after proposing a new Asia Pacific community (APc) encompassing economic, political and security issues, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s grand plan for the region appears to be sinking as quickly as his government’s other much-hyped schemes on emissions trading, education and health.
With critics at home—including two former prime ministers from his own Labor Party—and the region itself seemingly less than welcoming to yet another diplomatic talkfest, the prospects for the new APc being in place by the stated goal of 2020 appear remote.
Indeed, perhaps reflecting the Government’s diminished confidence in the proposal, the acronym has already been downgraded from ‘APC’ to ‘APc.’ Rudd has time on his side, but the community vision is in danger of falling victim to the prime minister’s recent willingness to ditch policy pledges viewed as unpopular ahead of the upcoming federal election.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The Diplomat spoke with Australia’s former foreign minister, Alexander Downer, and a range of foreign policy analysts from across the region to assess the state of the APc and Australia’s view of its place in Asia under the centre-left government compared with that of its conservative predecessor. The Australian government, for its part, refused to comment on the APc to The Diplomat.
Rudd’s vision for an Asia-Pacific super forum was first outlined in a June 2008 speech to the Asia Society Australasia, entitled ‘It’s Time to Build an Asia-Pacific Community.’ Delivered shortly before his first and somewhat delayed visit as prime minister to Indonesia and Japan, the proposal called for ‘strong and effective regional institutions’ to address issues including security, terrorism, natural disasters, disease, trade, energy and food.
While acknowledging the region’s existing architecture, the new Australian leader argued for the creation of ‘a regional institution which spans the entire Asia-Pacific region—including the United States, Japan, China, India, Indonesia and the other states of the region.’ It was to be capable of engaging in the ‘full spectrum of dialogue, cooperation and action on economic and political matters and future challenges related to security.’
Rudd also stated that he didn’t intend the ‘diminution of any of the existing regional bodies.’
‘APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Plus Three and ASEAN itself will continue to play important roles, and longer-term may continue in their own right or embody the building blocks of an Asia Pacific community,’ he said.
The new institution was immediately panned by Australia’s Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop, who described it as ‘another example of the prime minister just coming up with policy whims, floating it out there without doing any of the necessary groundwork.’
She was not alone.
Similar sentiments were expressed by ASEAN critics such as Barry Desker, head of Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, who described the APC as ‘dead in the water right from the very beginning.’ No Asian heads of government have publicly supported the scheme, while there has been considerable scepticism from leading ASEAN members such as Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia (although South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines have reportedly been more supportive, with China also said willing to discuss the concept).