Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd defended his vision for an Asia Pacific Community yesterday after it was attacked by two of his predecessors, playing down its similarities to the EU.
Rudd floated the idea on Tuesday, saying the grouping of countries including China, India, the US and Japan would enhance regional security and prosperity and could be set up by 2020.
But former prime ministers Paul Keating and Bob Hawke, both members of Rudd’s Labor Party, criticized the proposal, saying an EU-style model was inappropriate for Asia.
Hawke, one of the original architects of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, said EU-style integration would not necessarily work in Asia.
“I don’t want to knock references to the EU, but don’t let us say that’s the way it must be for Asia,” he told the Australian newspaper. “We can do a hell of a lot without necessarily having the full degree of integration that has occurred with the European Union.”
Keating, who followed up Hawke’s work by proposing the first APEC leaders’ meeting, said countries such as China would be loathe to cede partial sovereignty to an EU-style body.
“It has taken the Chinese 350 years of the modern age to truly recover their sovereignty — I do not see them sharing much of it with anyone else,” he wrote in the Australian. “And Japan remains one of the most insular, monocultural countries in the world.”
Rudd backed away from EU comparisons yesterday.
He said a common currency such as the euro was “absolutely not” on the agenda for his proposed grouping.
“It’s not right to see Europe as some sort of identikit model [for Asia],” Rudd told public radio. “But we can do better than we are at the present and to do that you’ve got to set an ambition and a timeline.”
FOLLOWING THE ISSUE
Meanwhile, government officials in Australia’s closest neighbor, Indonesia, said they would discuss the proposal with Rudd when he makes his first prime ministerial visit to Jakarta to meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono next week.
“We’re following the issue with interest. We are really keen to study the issue further,” foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said.
“I suppose the visit of PM Rudd next week to Indonesia will be an occasion for us to have a clear reference of what exactly [is] the vision of his statement,” he said.