Australian Prime Minister Hails Plan for Asia-Pacific Union

By Sabra Lane – ABC News

TONY EASTLEY: The Prime Minister will have plenty of time to review his plans for an Asia-Pacific community as he wings his way today to the annual APEC forum.

Kevin Rudd is flying to Peru via Honolulu and Acapulco – a 32 hour trip.

Before leaving Mr Rudd reaffirmed his determination to set up a European Union style forum in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Prime Minister says early negotiations have gone well and he dismissed reports that the plan has been poorly received.

From Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: Kevin Rudd flagged his grand plan for an EU-style union in the Pacific in June. Back then he said there was a need for such an organisation embracing political, security and economic challenges as, he argued, no current forum addressed all three issues.

It was reported earlier this week there’d been a cool reception to the idea around the region. Not so, according to the Prime Minister, who gave a keynote address in Canberra last night to the Kokoda Foundation, a not-for-profit think tank on future security challenges.

KEVIN RUDD: Our ambition remains to create an Asia-Pacific community by 2020 with a broad agenda, that brings together the United States, China, India, Indonesia, Japan and the other countries of the region, with a broad agenda to deal with the political, economic and security challenges of the future. As we know, no such body in the region does that at present. It is time we moved towards such a body.

SABRA LANE: Richard Woolcott, a former career diplomat who once headed the Department of Foreign Affairs was recalled from retirement to travel the region and gather support for Mr Rudd’s idea.

Yesterday afternoon Mr Woolcott gave a face to face briefing to the Prime Minister.

KEVIN RUDD: I’m pleased that the initial consultations in the region of my special envoy for the Asia-Pacific community, Richard Woolcott, has gone well. More discussions will occur. I’ll be discussing the proposal further with leaders in Lima this weekend. Our discussions will continue in capitals as well in the year ahead and my special envoy will be looking to consult with the new US administration at the earliest opportunity.

SABRA LANE: The Prime Minister says the new union wouldn’t be a substitute for any current organisation. He says ASEAN, the Association of South-East Asian Nations, formed in the 60s, is an example of the kind of progress his new Asian-Pacific community might achieve.

KEVIN RUDD: ASEAN was created at the height of the cold war when the future of the region was much less than certain. ASEAN has developed cooperation rather than confrontation as the driver of responses to new challenges that the region faces.

This experience illustrates the importance of pre-emptively shaping our future environment to position the region to address future challenges. This is a key factor driving this Government’s proposal for an Asia-Pacific community.

SABRA LANE: Mr Rudd is now travelling to Peru for the APEC summit. Due to an industrial dispute in Tahiti, his travel plans have changed. He’s flying to Lima via Honolulu and Acapulco, a journey taking 32 hours, 28 of them in the air. And if he happens to bump into George Bush in Peru, the Prime Minister might hope the following praise, given last night, will be telegraphed ahead helping to sooth any lingering anger the President may feel over the leaking of that phone call.

KEVIN RUDD: I think an outstanding success of the Bush administration has been the way it has managed the China relationship in what could have gone radically in the wrong direction.

TONY EASTLEY: The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ending that report by Sabra Lane.
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