Regional road map is best way forward for Asia, says Rudd

Labor PM seeks a common Asian vision and shared political, economic and security agenda

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 3:08pm

On the brink of Australia's federal election, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told the South China Morning Post that the peaceful rise of China should be accommodated, and that China's legitimate security interests needed to be acknowledged and respected.

But Rudd said the US would continue to be a key Asia-Pacific player and its alliances had to be respected.

"The June 2013 summit in California between President Obama and President Xi [Jinping ] demonstrated the commitment of both leaders to build further US-China relations," Rudd said in an e-mail response to Post questions.

Conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott, who is tipped to win tomorrow's election, did not reply to questions from the Post, but he was quoted in Sydney media this week as saying he would visit Asian capitals, including Beijing, before Washington and London.

In a speech to the AustCham Beijing in July last year, Abbott promised engagement with China rather than containment, and co-operation rather than strategic competition.

Labour Party leader Rudd proposes a regional road map - "a Pax Pacifica" - based on members of the region building a common vision and a shared political, economic and security agenda.

"As a start, this could in part be achieved through the development of a rules-based order for the Asia-Pacific," he said. This would include a regional dispute resolution mechanism and strengthening of the East Asia Summit (EAS) and Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting. "The EAS is the best mechanism because it involves annual leaders' level meetings with all 18 East Asian powers as well as India, Russia and the United States, and has both a political, economic and security agenda," Rudd said.

Rudd, a Putonghua-speaking former diplomat, described the China relationship as one of his country's most important, both in terms of economic prosperity and future stability. He said strengthening Australia's commercial links and expanding its strategic co-operation bilaterally, and in forums such as the G20, the East Asia Summit and Apec, would remain key priorities if he wins government.

"China is an increasingly important source of investment for Australia and our largest source of international students. Concluding the bilateral free trade agreement and diversifying into areas such as agriculture and services are important objectives."

Rudd said building stronger ties with China could include increasing Chinese literacy in Australian schools, businesses and governments.