Uphill battle for PM on Asian visit: expert

Thursday, 10 July 2003

Prime Minister Mr John Howard faces an uphill battle to achieve meaningful results from his forthcoming trip to Asia, according to a leading Asian Studies expert at the University of Adelaide.

Professor Purnendra Jain, from the University of Adelaide's Centre for Asian Studies, says Mr Howard will have to fight the perception among Asian countries that Australia is becoming increasingly aligned with the US, at the expense of its relationship with Asia.

"Australia has greatly isolated itself from Asia under the Howard administration," Professor Jain says. "Even Japan, Australia's best friend in Asia, regards Australia as arrogant and as a nation that is pursuing American-style 'macho diplomacy'.

"Australia is now increasingly perceived in Asian capitals as a self-appointed deputy to the US. This perception began to gain strength during the East Timor crisis in the late 1990s and became even stronger since the September 11 terrorism attacks and Australia's role in the Iraq war."

Mr Howard will visit the Philippines, Japan and South Korea during his week-long trip, meeting with each country's leaders. Professor Jain says trade, terrorism and security will be the topics at the top of the agenda.

"Asia is Australia's most important region economically, but recently Australia has chosen not to build its trade and economic relationship with the region," he says. Instead, it is pursuing a preferential bilateral trade with the US, which, if concluded, will discriminate against many of its Asian trading partners. Obviously this policy direction is not popular in Asia.

"Trade is not the only reason Asia is so important to Australia, because Australia now must increasingly seek Asian cooperation in order to secure its border and its citizens against other kinds of attacks.

"By preferring to become a closer ally with the US with the so-called "War on Terror" and the Iraq war, this has meant Australia has relinquished close cooperation with Asian nations in the areas of security and terrorism prevention.

"I would hope at the very least that his visits to Japan, the Philippines and South Korea reinforce to him how vital a strong working relationship - on all levels - with Asia is to Australia."


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