Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 17:20 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 17:20 | SYDNEY

The APC and the world of regions


Malcolm Cook

3 August 2009 15:50

The latest East Asia Forum blogpost about Prime Minister Rudd’s Asia Pacific Community (oops, community) idea by Peking University’s Jia Qingguo underlines two of the challenges facing Australia from China’s ongoing rise to East Asian and wider Asian regional leadership.

All countries divide the world into different regions and use this mental map of regions to shape their international engagement. Major powers, of course, can shape regional institutions more than others to match their mental maps. Fortunately for Australia, post-war Japanese political leaders have consistently expressed an Asia-Pacific view of the world with Japan, Australia, the US and Southeast Asia all included; the US was also comfortable with this mental map.

In May last year, Prime Minister Fukuda captured this inclusive Asia-Pacific view when he called the immense Pacific Ocean an 'inland sea'. In this speech, Fukuda also referred to the US-Japan alliance as an Asia-Pacific public good. Certainly most people in Canberra would agree with this definition of region and see the ANZUS alliance in a similar light.

Professor Jia’s thoughtful piece questions this view of alliances and ponders if the APC idea will in the future supplant these alliances, with the alliances being seen as private goods that divide the region rather than public goods that support regional cooperation. I would be taken aback if the APC is envisioned by its primary architects as a replacement for US bilateral alliances in the Asia Pacific and the trilateral dialogues that have been built upon them.

Most commentators in China see the US alliance system as divisive and make a clear division between Asia and the Pacific in their map of regions, with Australia in the Pacific and China in Asia. Professor Jia’s piece reflects this Chinese map of regions, one that sees Australia as part of the South Pacific (the People’s Bank of China’s Representative Office for the South Pacific is located just around the corner from the Lowy Institute here in Sydney). 

Professor Jia argues that if you include Australia in the APC then all the other states of the South Pacific should be included as well. And if the APC includes India (as is certainly the plan), 'you may well need to include such countries as Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, all of which are also Asian countries.' Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have never fitted in Australia’s Asia-Pacific vision and India is only a recent inclusion. Arguments still raged in 2007 in Canberra over whether India should be invited to join APEC or not.

Power shifts in the Asia Pacific (or in the narrower East Asia or the broader and more geographically accurate Asia) are complicating Australian foreign policy and its Asia Pacific initiatives. In 1989 the predominant regional view among the major and engaged powers supported Australia’s Asia Pacific viewpoint and the formation of APEC. Twenty years later, things are quite different.

Photo by Flickr user Changhua Coast Conservation Action, used under a Creative Commons license.