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Asian’s dog’s breakfast

PF Journey is a Webdiary columnist specialising in Asian issues and affairs. His last contribution to Webdiary was Aceh revisited: 12 months post 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Thanks PF, for this very useful review of the various disjointed and disparate summits going on in Asia.

By PF Journey

No, this is not about the Asian fondness of chomping Rover. This is about the many forums, summits, talk-fests etc that have been inflicted on us by the politicians of our region. The latest is the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Kuala Lumpur (14/12/05) recently attended by the reluctant John Howard. It must have been a very difficult and uncomfortable summit for John Howard. One can see that from his verbal and body language.

First, the host Malaysia, fought tooth and nail to keep Australia away from EAS. Especially when Dr. Mahathir was the PM. If Dr. Mahathir has not retired, it is unlikely that Australia would be at EAS. Dr. Mahathir was no friend of Australia and in general Malaysia is no friend of Australia. This is really puzzling, as Australia has always been on Malaysian side due to the British connection. Indonesia has more affection for Australia than Malaysia, yet Australia has confronted Indonesia during The Malaysia Confrontation of the 60s and in East Timor more recently.

Second, Australia also has been forced to eat humble pie as it signed the “Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC)” as a pre-condition to be offered a seat on the EAS. The TAC has been seen as a direct response from ASEAN to Howard’s implied doctrine of Australia being the US’ deputy sheriff and the pre-emptive strike statement. The Treaty was simply a statement that bars Asian nations from attacking one other. Initially, the Howard Government was totally opposed in signing the TAC as a pre-condition to admittance of Australia to the EAS. Howard was really gung-ho and refused to budge. It gave rise to headline like this in the Asian media: “Australia to remain an outsider if it refuses to sign the TAC” (The Manila Times).

Third, The recent “race riots” in Cronulla have been splashed across the front pages or screens of the Asian media just as EAS was in full flight. Despite Howard’s “head-in-the-sand” pronouncement that “Australia is not a racist country and that riots won't tarnish Australia”. This will not wash with the Asians who know that Australia has a long history of racially based policies, internally and externally. See The Age’s White Australia rules. Especially if the pronouncement came from a PM who has no credibility in Asia when comes to the race issues with his 1988 statement of “Too many Asian immigrants in Australia” and his lukewarm repudiation of Pauline Hanson. The beef that the Asians have with Australia has always been that Australia is being hypocritical. Australia likes to lecture the Asians about human rights, yet it refuses to confront its own racial history and the treatment of the Aborigines. The general perception in Asia is that there is a 900 pounds White Australia gorilla, sitting quietly in the corner Australian lounge room and leap out occasionally ala King Kong as evident by the recent Cronulla riots.

Lastly, East Asia Summit as its name implied is Asian. Many want to keep it that way, especially Malaysia. So why Australia (and New Zealand) is busting its gut to try to get into EAS? Especially, Howard has stated many times that Australia is not in Asia and not an Asian country. So why bother? See SMH - Malaysia delivers a short, important face slap - “MALAYSIA has delivered a blow to Australia's East Asian aspirations, saying it is not part of East Asia and should not expect to become part of a future community”. The reality is that Howard Government (read Australia) has no choice but to be at the EAS table because of Australia’s increasing economic links and opportunities in East Asia and the needs for co-operation for regional security in the post 9/11 environment.

Here is the Dog’s Breakfast

APEC: Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum. APEC was established in 1989 to become the primary regional vehicle for promoting open trade and practical economic co-operation. The first meeting was in Canberra in 1989 and attended by Australia, USA, Brunei, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Since it has been expanded to include: China, Russia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mexico, PNG, Chile, Peru and Vietnam. The next APEC Summit will be in Vietnam in 2006 and Australia in 2007. APEC Summit is famous of its “silly national costume” fashion parade by the attending national leaders. Another famous APEC incident was the then Australia’s PM Paul Keating in first summit in Seattle, the US., in 1993 called Dr. Mahathir of Malaysia as a "recalcitrant" for refusing to attend. It almost started a war between Australia and Malaysia, the impacts of that spat are still being felt today.

ASEAN: Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a political, economic, and cultural forum. Formed in 1967 with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Now expanded to include: Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Cambodia. East Timor is attending as an observer, waiting to be admitted. ASEAN is famous or infamous for its “Non Interference” policy on each other internal affairs. Some have called it the “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil” policy. The most recent ASEAN Summit, it did issued their strongest rebuke to Burma over its treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi, political prisoners and a firm timetable for democratisation. A pot calling the kettle black? Most of the ASEAN countries  are all practising Sukarno’s “Guided Democracy”, those in power guides, the people follow and don’t ask many questions because the power knows best.

EAEG: East Asian Economic Grouping. The original dream of Dr. Mahathir of Malaysia and supported by his fellow ASEAN countries. It was to be a regional economic grouping that would act as a hedge against the domination of the WTO by USA, the European Union and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the European Union”. The future of EAEG is unclear, if not already being superseded by forum such as EAS or ASEAN+3 below.

EAS: East Asia Summit. EAS is ASEAN plus China, South Korea, Japan plus Australia, New Zealand and India. This is a strange beast indeed. Traditionally, East Asia only refers to countries like China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan. So how can “East Asia” now includes ASEAN, Australia, NZ and India is beyond my comprehension. If you cannot get the name or brand right, you cannot get the substance right. For the motherhood declaration of EAS, see Declaration on the East Asia Summit, Kuala Lumpur, 14 December 2005. The two heavyweights, China and Japan, completely ignored each other during the Summit.

ASEAN+3: This is ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea. This is the new skin for EAEG. It is still being strongly pushed by Malaysia. ASEAN+3 is supported by China but not Japan. Japan fears that China will dominate and wants Australia and India to be included to counter balance the power and influence of China.

ASEAN+1: The one is China. This was a formalisation of the China-ASEAN Eminent Persons Group that met first in August 2004 in Qingdao, China. Initiated by the Chinese and eagerly anticipated by ASEAN. The increasing economic, trade and investment links between ASEAN and China are driving the growing relations between China and ASEAN. Japan once was the Taipan to ASEAN, but Japan is increasing being viewed in ASEAN as the US’s lackey and its WW2 records in ASEAN have not been completely forgotten.

China is more than happy to recover Taipan role that historical was hers. The Asian Times reported recently that: “China is likely to declare itself the world's fourth largest economy soon, leapfrogging Italy, France and Britain, helped by a likely huge revision of its gross domestic product figures. Economists say China's National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), which is due to release part of the results of its first national economic census on December 20, is likely to assign a much bigger figure for the size of the services sector”.

Jusuf Wanandi wrote in Jakarta Post that: "A new era has dawned in East Asia. ASEAN and China have forged a Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity. This partnership will have positive implications that go beyond the relationship between ASEAN and China. It will benefit the wider East Asian region and the world. The strategic partnership is a means to making an effective contribution to regional and global peace and prosperity". See ASEAN and China form strategic partnership. Furthermore, the Overseas Chinese network in ASEAN knows how to operate and feel comfortable with China. Almost home coming.

ARF - ASEAN Regional Forum. This is a FM (Foreign Minister) club. The current members are: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Canada, China, European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Russian Federation, Singapore, Thailand, United States, Vietnam and East Timor was admitted in July 2005. ARF is supposed to be the principal forum for security dialogue in Asia and Pacific and established in 1994. Other than APEC, this is the only forum that the US participated. However, the US pre-occupation with the Middle-east and Europe has meant that Asia is low priority. Recently, Condi Rice became the first US FM to skip AFR, so were the FMs from Japan, India, and China. AFR is more famous for its Karaoke show where our FM was belting out Beach Boys’ Kokomo or Elvis’ It’s Now or Never, see A song in his heart, Downer shows he's got that loving feeling.

USA-Japan-Australia Axis: This is not a formal alliance yet. But there is no doubt an axis in forming between US-Japan-Australia to counter the rise of China. I previously wrote that: "The Chinese has also expressed concerned about the US-Australia-Japan Strategic Dialogue. It worries that the Dialogue is US-Australia-Japan ganging up against China on issues like Taiwan and China’s increasing influence in Southeast Asia. It is no accident that Japan and Australia are the most staunch supporter of the US policy in Iraq despite strong domestic opposition". See Pride and Prejudice: is the third Sino-Japanese war inevitable?.

China, India, Russia Trialogue: First meeting was in United Nations, New York September 2003 between the FMs of the three countries on an informal basis. The Trialogue was formalised in June 2005 where the Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Indian counterpart Natwar Singh met in Vladivostok. It was the first time FMs of the three countries had met independently, not in the framework of an international forum, though they have held three prior informal meetings. The key issue is energy security. They have agreed to form a strategic alliance to explore the building of these pipelines. Theoretically, these pipelines could link the Iranian, Central Asia and Russian oil and gas fields, creating what one writer dubbed the "Pan Asian Global Energy Bridge", a Eurasian network of pipelines linking energy resources of the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia through to China's Pacific Coast. Serving the enormous markets of China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and even Japan.

How useful are these forums?

I cannot recall anything really significant or ground breaking that have come out of these forums in the last 20 years. The reality is that all these forums are just talk-fests that offer no real tangible values. There is a sense of comic and unreal about these forums and the attending leaders often looked uncomfortable and cannot wait to get away. These forums were often conducted on the guiding principle of “Don’t criticise me, don’t embarrass me and don’t make me lose face”.

These forums must be very expensive to maintain, organise and conduct. The secretariats, the bureaucrats, the luxury venues, banquets, the chauffeur-driven limousines for the leaders and total security, press conferences, facilities for the media etc. The money could be better spent for the welfare of the people concerned, Jakarta Post described the recent ASEAN meeting as “anything but communal. Instead, the gathering remains as elitist as it has ever been, if not more so… Even reporters, many of whom are veterans of ASEAN summits, dressed the part: Suit and tie for men”.

These are just forums for the politicians to look good statesmanlike, expound platitudes, back slapping each other, do silly handshake, wear sillier costume, prance around in Karaoke show and playing the Machiavellian political games of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and “who is the boss now that worth sucking up to”.

Meanwhile back at the ranch in many of these countries, the cancers of the society are ignored, namely, civil society is only a lip service, the gap between rich and poor is getting bigger, rule of power is confused with the rule of law, the corruption is rampaging, human rights continuously trample, modern day slavery disguises as human power export, and the environment continuously being raped.
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PettiFogger Journey?

What a mean-spirited, petty article.  Anytime leaders of sovereign nations get together and talk, it's probably a good thing.  Dialogue leads to understanding and appreciation of mutual problems. Hey, it might even avoid the odd conflict, and save a life or two.

Noriko Hama's take on the dog's breakie

G'day. Noriko Hama, professor at Doshisha University Management School and research director at the economic research department in the Mitsubishi Research Institute in Tokyo, wrote about How not to build an East Asian Community in the week before the first-ever East Asia Summit for openDemocracy.net.

She takes the reader through the "process that began in December 1997... when the region’s north met its south in response to the financial crisis that was raging throughout east Asia", through the various combinations: ASEAN(9) +3, ASEAN(10) +3, and the final 10 +3 +3 configuration that includes "the still uneasy combination of China, Japan and South Korea" joined by Australia, India and New Zealand.

Hama sees a slide from what was an economics-driven arrangement "by nature evolutionary, and by definition sustained by mutual economic gain" into a politics-driven framework "by nature contrived" which "by definition becomes unsustainable where the parties involved seek mutually incompatible political gains." 

Peter Dead $ouls Woodforde

Then there’s the Cairns [far north Queensland] Group - Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay – currently meeting in Hong Kong with the WTO, entertainment provided by madly swinging, shrill and enraged South Korean farmers. And cops befuddled as to correct behaviour in front of all those visitors especially rich tourists from the Peoples Republic learning all about democracy. Besides that, the WTO show has turned, as ever, into a bunfight between the EU and the US protecting their rural commodity subsidies-cum-political cronies. Meanwhile, groupings in Hong Kong are such an “issue” that the WTO has even issued a “jargon buster.” 

And the 900 pound gorilla in the room is not so much Australian racism as Australia’s good buddy, President Bush’s complicated farmer buddy regime of a “little dab here and little dab there.” Bush and his Congress must serve every portion of the USA a good result for parishes which don’t want to be wiped out by volleys of sugar, cotton, tobacco, timber and just about everything else springing from Mother Earth.


The same goes for the ever-expanding Ring Cycle formerly known as France, England, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, et al. Now it has its own 900 pound gorilla, with the planned appropriation of a large and populous Muslim country with significant cultural/linguistic links to former Soviet neighbours stretching to Central Asia. With Turkey on board, the EU would be punching and dancing on the canvas of the Haliburton-Bush White House travelling boxing troupe (and its oil, gas and murderous high-temperature bombs).


And that’s enough to give George Bush and D*** Cheney very bad dreams, despite their tiny, doughty protector Downunder. Thankfully for George and D***, wherever they go, l’il ol’ Depooty Dawg, shoulders scissoring as wildly as the wings of a wild kookaburra, is sniffing at the scent from the seats of their big, baggy strides.

But is that enough in a world remoulding itself, with millions of people and billions of dollars (or Euros) on the move? Can a country like Australia, openly and proudly constituted on racist premises for more than two centuries, keep up? Especially when its leader, notorious after years of racist sleight of hand, wetly mutters that the wide brown land has no “underlying racism?” Oh dear. Left behind again for want of statesmanship.

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