Monday 30 Nov 2020 | 23:04 | SYDNEY
Monday 30 Nov 2020 | 23:04 | SYDNEY

Rudd will go to Tokyo later, and all will be well


Sam Roggeveen


25 March 2008 09:45

Malcolm Cook draws up an impressive list of of Japanese worries about the new Rudd Government to counter my argument that the Prime Minister's decision to exclude Japan from his first big overseas trip is of little consequence. I certainly agree that it is important for Australia to maintain the relationship in good order, and a Prime Ministerial visit to Japan is an important element of this maintenance. The Prime Minister evidently agrees too, since he plans to go to Japan twice this year.

The point of disagreement between Malcolm and myself, then, hangs on the order of the PM's overseas visits. Malcolm places much more importance than I on the fact that Rudd is not going to Japan during his first big overseas tour, starting later this week. But the order could only matter if the Japanese are inordinately sensitive to perceived offence, or if the relationship was in need of urgent repair of the kind that can only be done by Prime Ministers. I think the latter is untrue, even based on the list Malcolm provides. As for the former, wouldn't  a stand-alone Rudd visit later this year confer higher status on the relationship than inserting Tokyo into a larger itinerary?

As a point of comparison, it's also worth considering how the US has reacted to the election of Kevin Rudd. Given the Rudd Government is committed to withdrawing from Iraq, won't sell uranium to India and has left the US more isolated on its climate change policy, the Bush Administration has already lost far more from our change of government than Tokyo has. Yet how has Washington reacted to the change of government? With good grace, equanimity and a constructive spirit, I'd say, exemplified by Nicholas Burns' generous words when he visited the Lowy Institute in December.

Of course, Rudd is going to Washington on this trip, so you might argue the Bush Administration has less to complain about than Tokyo does. Maybe, but had Rudd decided to go to Washington (twice) later this year rather than include it on this trip, our relationship is so deep and multi-faceted that a range of other activities could have kept things going until that visit. And to a lesser degree, the same is true of Japan. If, as Malcolm argues, the Rudd Government does need to build bridges with Tokyo, there are countless ways to do so before Rudd steps on a plane.