By Jeremy Laurence
HUA HIN, Thailand, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will press his idea of an Asia Pacific community when he meets his Asian counterparts on Sunday.
Rudd’s push comes a day after Japan promoted another regional bloc, the East Asian Community, during a summit of 16 Asia-Pacific leaders in the Thai seaside resort of Hua Hin. [ID:nSP165012]
The summit brings together the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
WHO WILL BE INCLUDED IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC COMMUNITY?
It will be a forum involving Asian and Pacific nations cooperating on matters of security, politics and the economy.
An Asia-Pacific community could also provide a vehicle for discussion and cooperation across the range of challenges with transnational reach, such as climate change, resource and food security, bio-security and terrorism, Rudd says.
It has become a pet project for Rudd, who first presented the idea in June last year and has appointed former diplomat Richard Woolcott, who negotiated the creation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 1989, as special envoy of the plan.
The six countries most vital for the proposal are seen as the United States, China, Japan, India, Indonesia and Russia.
HOW DOES THIS DIFFER FROM JAPAN‘S EAST ASIA COMMUNITY IDEA?
The United States is a definite starter in Rudd’s proposal, whereas Japan leaves Washington’s membership up in the air. The Asia-Pacific community could also include Russia.
Woolcott also says it is better that a middle-sized country such as Australia puts forward new ideas for the region rather than the major powers such as Japan, China or the United States. If a major power does so, smaller countries may suspect there may be some hidden or self-serving agenda, he says.
He has told Australian media that the most preferred options from his discussions with potential members were to adapt either the APEC Forum or the East Asia Summit.
DOES RUDD‘S PLAN ENVISAGE A COMMON CURRENCY?
Rudd has been non committal on this.
HOW FAR AWAY IS ANY SUCH PLAN?
Rudd has put a long-term timetable on this -- 2020.
WHY DOES AUSTRALIA WANT TO PROMOTE?
Rudd is a former diplomat and Mandarin speaker, and sees Australia’s relationship with Asia as a top foreign policy objective. Last month he said the future of Australia was "tied to the most dynamic region in the world". He sees as Asia as the global powerhouse of the 21st century. "Engaging with, cooperating with, active collaboration with the rich economies and societies of greater Asia is critical to Australia’s economic future."
WHERE HAS AUSTRALIA BEEN PUSHING THE IDEA?
Rudd has been actively promoting the concept in Singapore and New York in the past six months. He told a security conference in Singapore there was no regional body at the moment with a membership or mandate broad enough to work across politics, economy and security issues.
Woolcott has also visited capitals across the region to discuss the Asia-Pacific community proposal over the last 12 months.
IS WASHINGTON INTERESTED?
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell has said Rudd’s idea is important but has not specifically said if the Australian or Japanese idea is his preferred option. Either way, he has said: "I just want to assure you ... the United States is going to be part of this party. We are an active player and we’re going to want an invitation as well."
Campbell has said Washington’s primary focus over the next year or two is to make sure G20 is successful.
WHAT ARE OTHERS SAYING?
Woolcott has said while there had been "little appetite" initially, the concept of a new regional body is "an idea whose time is coming".
China Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue has said the conditions aren’t ripe to put the idea on the agenda right away. Critics say China could be suspicious that Rudd’s idea is a way of bringing the United States back into their East Asia equation.
Other critics have said Rudd should have consulted with Asian leaders before making public his idea, that the forum could undermine exsiting structures and that it is just another added expense.
Australia will convene a "1-1/2" track conference for potential members in December. Key government officials, academics and opinion makers have been invited.
(Reporting by Jeremy Laurence. Editing by Jason Szep)