Australian PM wants EU-style regional group for Asia-Pacific

SYDNEY, June 5, 2008 (AFP) – Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called on Asia-Pacific countries Thursday to form a European Union-style grouping that he said would enhance regional security and prosperity. Rudd said an Asia-Pacific Community — a potential economic powerhouse including China, India, the United States and Japan — could be established by 2020.

“The key thing is to enhance security and regional cooperation, which at present is fragmented,” Rudd said in a radio interview after outlining the idea in an address to the Asia Society Australasia on Wednesday night.

“Remember the region is currently host to a whole range of unresolved territorial conflicts — the Taiwan Straits, the Korean peninsula, Kashmir, involving a whole range of nuclear weapons states.

“We can either stand back and allow things to drift, or we can say ‘actually there should be a better way of handling this’. That’s what we’re putting forward as an ambitious proposal for the future.”

Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker and ardent Sinophile, has made engagement with Asia a foreign policy priority since his election last November.

Rudd’s stance contrasts with that of his conservative predecessor John Howard