Thursday 09 Apr 2020 | 12:50 | SYDNEY
Thursday 09 Apr 2020 | 12:50 | SYDNEY

In Washington, open minds about Rudd Asia vision


Michael Fullilove


13 June 2008 09:21

It was very decent of Senator John McCain to say nice things about Australia today, complimenting our regional role and endorsing the ADF’s deployments in the Pacific. He even spoke highly of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. It’s not easy for an Australian PM to insert himself into that kind of a press conference. The last time it happened – to much less pleasant effect – was in January last year, when then-Prime Minister John Howard implied that Osama bin Laden would be praying for Senator Barack Obama’s political success. (Obama’s deadly response, which I described at the time in The National Interest Online, was to urge Mr Howard either to call up another 20,000 troops or quit the ‘empty rhetoric’.)

McCain’s polite response to Rudd’s idea for an Asia-Pacific Community is consistent with the reaction of Asia hands I’ve spoken to in Washington: they are interested in the proposal, though they are not at all sure what the PM has in mind. At this stage, analysts here are giving the idea the benefit of the doubt (certainly more so than their Australian equivalents) because they trust Canberra to ensure that nothing emerges which undercuts US interests.

Australia is fortunate that both candidates for president in 2008 have had personal experiences in Asia. Senator McCain lived in Indochina for several years as a young man (although that was not, famously, his decision), and Senator Obama lived in Indonesia for four years as child. Obama’s sojourn is particularly notable. Australian governments have consistently been unsuccessful in getting Washington to take Indonesia seriously: yet we now have a presidential candidate with an Indonesian history and family, who is known to take a strong personal interest in the country.