SE Asian coverage of Aussie elections

New Aussie Worldview; Australia’s new PM is old Asia hand

The Jakarta Post

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Editorial

Thanks, John; Hello, Kevin

A change of guard in a country almost anywhere in the world would be
widely welcomed. This is precisely the mood in most of Asia after
this weekend’s elections in Australia.

Underpinning the message was not so much that people had become tired
of John Howard and his sometimes controversial policies; but rather
that it was time for a change of leader, through a democratic
process, after more than 11 years. Bottom line, they are saying, it’s
about time Australia had a new leader.

It could have been Kevin Rudd, the head of the victorious Labor
Party, or it could have been Peter Costello, who would have succeeded
Howard in the Liberal Party leadership had the latter stepped down
before elections. Asia would have settled for either man. Even had
Australians returned Howard to Canberra, we would have lived with it.

It’s easy to condemn a dead man, but we don’t think it’s fair or
ethical. Some of the commentaries and editorials on the Australian
election over the last two days have been unkind to Howard,
especially his Asian policies.

Inadvertently, they are placing too great of expectations on Rudd.
They are working on the presumption that Australia’s foreign policy,
especially toward Asian, will drastically change under the new
leadership. That remains to be seen.

One thing we have to remember is Australia’s foreign policy in the
last 11 years has progressively brought it closer to Asia. There was
not that drastic a change in direction from the time of the Labor
Party’s Paul Keating, who Howard succeeded in 1996.

Their differences, especially when it comes to Indonesia, were more
style than substance. Howard was just too abrasive for Asian culture,
but he was just being a good-natured Australian. Among Australians,
as affable as Keating was to Asians, he was the exception to the rule.

For much of the past 11 years or so, Indonesia and Australia have
gone through many good and bad times together.

The removal of East Timor from the equation, after its violent
separation from Indonesia in 1999, was in retrospect a boon to the
relationship. Since then, no single issue has dominated bilateral
dealings, and each problem that has come up has been addressed
individually without dragging down the entire relationship.

Howard, who survived four Indonesian presidents (B.J. Habibie,
Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Soekarnoputri and Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono), had the unenviable task of healing the wounds inflicted
on Indonesian leaders after the loss of East Timor. (As a side note,
it was Habibie not Howard who hastily decided to hold the referendum
in East Timor that eventually led to the violent separation. Blame
Habibie, not Howard.)

During Howard’s tenure, Indonesia and Australia went through many
tragedies together, from the deadly Bali bombings in 2002 that killed
many Australian tourists and other, smaller, terrorist attacks, to
the devastating 2004 tsunami in Aceh that saw a massive global
outpouring of sympathy, and the death of nine Australian soldiers
while on a humanitarian relief operation on Nias Island.

Howard established a good rapport, especially with Yudhoyono,
Indonesia’s first directly elected president, so much so they are now
on a first name basis. They brought their relationship to a level
playing field, in which no one patronized the other, unlike the
relationships between previous leaders.

This is a model of the kind of relationship we should have, one in
which each feels comfortable and at ease with the other, and one that
is built more on our shared values and shared interests, while
respecting our differences (which are many).

Rudd’s track record, and particularly his knowledge of Asia, may have
impressed many in Asia, which adds to the welcoming tone of the
commentaries of the past three days. But like the Australians who
voted him in, we have to wait and see what kind of prime minister he
is. The signs are positive, and let’s hope that he lives up to our
expectations.

On that note, it is only appropriate that we acknowledge the services
of the outgoing prime minister, especially since he has been with us
for the last 11 years, through good and bad, and greet his successor
and wish him the best of luck.

Thank you, John; welcome, Kevin.

————————–

The Straits Times (Singapore)
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Editorial

New Aussie worldview

AUSTRALIAN voters could be presaging a positive change in Canberra’s
foreign policy priorities in repudiating the conservative coalition’s
Mr John Howard at the weekend, in favour of the Labor Party under Mr
Kevin Rudd. The most plausible re-orientation would be deeper
collegial ties with China, the biggest buyer of Australian ores and
energy and a primary factor in the nation’s extended boom. Australia
in this century of shifting continental polarity would be wise to
build a special relationship with China, down to dampening America’s
expectation that it help provide military support if Taiwan faces
problems with the mainland. Growing opinion in Australia sees this as
not just a matter of prudence in knowing on which side its bread is
buttered, and will be for years if China grows without let.

Ideologically, Labor prime ministers Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and
Paul Keating had an institutional understanding with Asia, China in
particular, partly on account of the party’s working-class roots.
This should develop anew under Mr Rudd. It will be helped by the fact
he is a fluent Mandarin speaker.

Better relations with China need not necessarily come at the expense
of the United States relationship – which partly cost Mr Howard, an
unabashed cheerleader for the US – but the new American president who
takes over in a little over a year cannot take for granted Canberra’s
acquiescence in Pacific strategic issues. Australia’s participation
in an emergent American Pacific security web with India and Japan,
projected no doubt as a watching brief on China, can no longer be
assumed. Mr Rudd has already distanced himself from the US and Mr
Howard over the Kyoto treaty on climate protections. He says he will
ratify it and follow up by attending the Bali climate conference next
month. The Kyoto decision will place Australia on the rational side
of the environmental argument. He also intends to reduce the
Australian military contingent in Iraq, although he can expect tough
persuasion by the US in what the Americans view as a fundamental
commitment. All told, America may need to rework its sums concerning
Australia despite Mr Rudd saying the security alliance with the US
was a linchpin policy.

Mr Rudd’s intention to visit Indonesia as his first overseas call is
customary for modern Australian leaders, and doubly welcome for the
emphasis it places on long-standing South-east Asia ties. Singapore
will be calculating anew whether a new government unburdened by
baggage would be more receptive to a bid by Singapore Airlines to fly
the Australia-US route. Labor is a party built on unions, but Mr Rudd
is showing no signs of insularity.

Asia Times Online

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Australia’s new PM is old Asia hand

By Andrew Symon

SINGAPORE – Perceptions can play an important role in shaping
international relations and here Australia’s prime minister-elect,
Kevin Rudd, will take office with some advantages, especially in Asia.

As a fluent Mandarin speaker – the only Western leader of government
now or ever, at least in contemporary times, with this ability – the
one time diplomat will clearly be able to gain Beijing’s interest and
attention. This must carry benefits in diplomatic, security and trade
negotiations when leaders meet on a bilateral basis or in multilateral forums.

Already this has been demonstrated at the Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Sydney in September. As parliamentary
leader of the federal Australian Labor Party, then the main
opposition party, the 50-year-old Rudd joined Prime Minister John
Howard in welcoming Chinese President Hu Jintao to Australia. Rudd
broke into Mandarin after a brief introduction in English, upstaging
Howard. Rudd later had a 30-minute meeting with Hu without resort to
interpreters. And during the recent election campaign he was
interviewed by Chinese television in Mandarin several times.

Appearances and style do count. While a Rudd Labor government will
not depart radically from the foreign and security policies of
Howard’s conservative Liberal-National Party government, the
relationship with the US and the Bush administration will not be the
sort of lock-step affair that characterized ties between Canberra and
Washington under Howard.

Rudd will demonstrate to Asia that his government is more independent
of Washington through his commitment to withdraw combat troops from
Iraq and sign the Kyoto Accord on reducing the growth of greenhouse
gas emissions and combating global warming. Australia will remain a
loyal ally of the US but Rudd should torpedo the view of some in Asia
of Canberra having a subservient relationship with Washington.

At the same time, Rudd has repeatedly affirmed that the US alliance,
under the broad framework of the 1951 Australia-New Zealand-United
States Security Treaty (ANZUS), will continue to be a cornerstone of
Australian foreign and defense policies. The US military will
continue to maintain important communications centers in the US
satellite defense system and Australia will host joint and
multi-country military operations with the US. Late on Saturday, with
Labor’s success in the election secured, Rudd spoke with President
Bush and plans to visit Washington early next year.

Australia will remain a loyal, although more independent ally of the
US. This has been very much the usual Labor Party position in
government despite left-wing elements in the party opposed to the US
alliance. The troop withdrawal is more symbolic, with Australia
having only 550 combat soldiers in Iraq and Rudd saying Australia
will continue to provide aid for Iraqi reconstruction. But these
initial measures over Kyoto and Iraq are important and will be seen
by Asian governments and public opinion as marking a new era for
Australia on the regional and international stages.

Already, Indonesia’s President Bambang Yudohoyono has invited Rudd to
attend the key United Nations meeting in Bali in December to
determine a successor framework to the Kyoto Accord when that expires
in 2012, while Malaysia’s leader, Abdullah Badawi, says Rudd’s Iraq
plan will “improve the country’s international standing”.

Australia under Labor will put more emphasis on pursuing Australian
objectives through multilateral diplomacy in the UN and regional
forums as against the more bilateral style of Howard’s government and
in particular its very heavy weighting on close alignment with the US
position. It was the lack of UN support for the US’s Iraq invasion in
2003 that is the reason for Labor’s opposition to Australian troop
deployment, in contrast to Labor’s support for the first Gulf War in
1990-91 when in government under Bob Hawke, and Labor’s support for
the UN sanctioned military invasion in 2001 against the al-Qaeda-
supporting Taliban regime in Afghanistan after the September 11,
2001, terrorist attacks on the US.

Indeed, there are suggestions that Australia will increase its forces
in Afghanistan as it withdraws from Iraq. Rudd in fact may find that
Afghanistan becomes an early concern as the apparent strengthening of
Taliban forces point to a long struggle ahead. And the situation
there has started to come into sharper focus for the Australian
public with four soldiers killed in fighting in the last few months.

Looking ahead at US-Australia relations, should the Democrats take
the presidency in the US in 2008, which seems very likely, then
almost certainly Canberra, under the moderately left of center Labor
government, and Washington will see eye to eye on the importance of a
multilateral system, the Middle East, Iraq, Kyoto, global warming and
many other issues

In Australia’s relations with Asia, there will be many continuities
with the outgoing John Howard government, with Rudd’s government
building further on work done over the last 11 years.

Howard was perhaps unfairly seen in Asia, especially in his earlier
years as prime minister, as being not particularly comfortable in
Asia and in some ways more of a 1950s and ’60s man, preferring an
old-fashioned Australia tied closely to Britain.

Yet many overlook the fact that Howard presided over an unprecedented
strengthening of Australia’s economic links with China, driven
especially by exports of Australian mineral, energy and agricultural
commodities and increasing Chinese investment in Australia. There has
also been remarkable growth in the numbers of immigrants from China
settling in Australia as well as growth in students studying and
tourists visiting down under.

Under his watch, China’s Hu addressed the Australian Parliament in
October 2003, the first time this was done by any Asian leader, a day
after the address by George W Bush. Negotiations for a free trade or
preferential trade agreement with China were also begun, following
the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement signed in 2004.

The Howard government also differentiated – although probably
regretting that it did so publicly – Australia’s policy over Taiwan
from that of the US. In August 2004, then foreign minister Alexander
Downer during a visit to Beijing said that under the ANZUS Treaty,
Australia was not automatically committed to provide military support
to the US in any Taiwan Strait crisis.

This is true as the treaty in fact is short and quite general
although Australia is still obligated under the treaty to act
diplomatically with the US in such a situation. Rudd, then shadow
foreign minister, more carefully stated that Australia’s interest was
to see the use of peaceful means to deal with tensions and that
Australia was not obliged to say what it would or would not do in the
event of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait.

As far as Southeast Asia is concerned, Howard also sought to
strengthen relations after a fairly passive start. Relations with
Indonesia, especially, plummeted as a result of Australia’s military
support for East Timor’s independence as the head of the UN force
sent in 1999 to pacify the country after Indonesian military inspired
militias went on a rampage. Here the US alliance was important as
Washington pressured Jakarta to “invite” the UN to send the force,
although the US did not contribute American troops.

Relations though have been rebuilt with Jakarta, as symbolized by
Howard’s effort to attend Yudhoyono’s inauguration in August 2004,
the only leader outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) to do so. Underlining further the effort that Howard’s
government has put into Indonesia-Australia relations is the new and
broad security pact signed between the two countries in November
2006, replacing a 1995 agreement that was jettisoned by Jakarta
during the Timor crisis.

As far as Southeast Asia and Asean as a whole are concerned, again
the Howard government can boast of real advances. Australia is
pursuing a free trade agreement with ASEAN and on the diplomatic and
security front has signed the 1976 ASEAN Treaty of Amity and
Cooperation, after some concern that it might cut against ANZUS, so
that Australia could become a founding member of the East Asia
summit, first held in Kuala Lumpur in December 2005, joining the 10
ASEAN countries, Japan, China, South Korea, India and New Zealand.

Despite all this, Australia’s relations with Asia have probably been
hurt by measures Howard took in response to Islamic extremism and
terrorism internationally and the possible threat to Australia
domestically, especially in the wake of the Bali bombings in October 2002.

The specter of Islamic terrorism within Australia has led to an
alarming degree of xenophobia. As many leading figures – from former
conservative prime minister Malcolm Fraser to former Labor prime
minister Paul Keating – warn, Bali has encouraged a climate of
suspicion, insularity and narrow nationalism, seriously eroding the
strong multicultural and multiracial policies and attitudes that had
developed under both conservative and Labor governments since the 1970s.

Severe new security laws have been established, there has been often
heavy-handed detention of illegal immigrants from the Middle East, an
“Australian knowledge and values” test has been established that
immigrants must pass before gaining Australian citizenship, and there
have been some nasty cases of street abuse and racism towards
Australians of Middle Eastern and also African background.

All this has reinforced the still sometimes strong view among people
in Asia that Australia is still beset by racism. So a critical task
of the Rudd government will be to re-cast and re-assert a
non-discriminatory and “fair go” Australia. This will in turn enhance
Australia’s moral capital and “soft power” in regional and
international forums.

To this end, what also will not have escaped notice in Asia is the
fact that Rudd’s daughter, Jessica, recently married an Australian of
Chinese background. In election night celebrations on Saturday in
Brisbane they were both on stage and under the spotlight with the
rest of the immediate Rudd family. While interracial marriages are
hardly a big deal in Australia – and of course there are plenty in
Asia, Europe and North America – it does help to promote Australia as
the open, tolerant and inclusive country that Rudd has declared is
his objective to strengthen.

Andrew Symon is a Singapore-based journalist and analyst. In
Australia he worked in the Senate of the national Parliament and as a
ministerial speech writer in the 1980s. He has been working in
Southeast Asia since 1992. Andrew.symon@yahoo.com.sdg

——————————————

Joyo Indonesia News Service
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