Kevin Rudd

Rudd's regional vision raises question mark

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2008, 12:00am

There are a host of security concerns causing instability and uncertainty across the Asia-Pacific region. North Korea, Taiwan and Kashmir are the most prominent, but China's rise, the Spratly Islands, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the rush for resources, piracy and weapons smuggling are among others that are also worrisome.

Unlike among western nations, there are no regional organisations dedicated to permanently tackling security issues. This is despite some having a regional impact or the potential to involve more than neighbouring countries. The lack of such a body was the reason China, the US, Japan, South Korea and Russia joined forces to try to get North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons programme.

Australia's new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is well aware of the concerns. His country has key alliances with the US and Japan and is building ever-stronger ties with China. As a result, each development in the relationships has to be carefully weighed.

Little wonder, then, that he has called for a security grouping to 'help remove some of the brittleness' from the 'strategically fragile theatre'. He espoused the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe as a model, contending that the six-party talks over North Korea would be an ideal starting point. Their membership and remit could be expanded so that other matters could be taken on, he said.

Mr Rudd has a wider agenda. He wants to return Australia to an Asian foreign policy focus. This is a positive move and should not belittle the proposal. The OSCE's objectives of providing stability through early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation would serve the Asia-Pacific region well in areas such as piracy and the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Whether such a forum would work when it comes to disputes is quite another matter, though. Fears about China's economic and political rise, for example, are already being handled through bilateral relations. Mr Rudd has come up with a worthy idea which is worth exploring. But it is questionable whether such a body would be able to resolve the region's thorniest problems.