[Viewpoint] Skepticism over APC

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[Viewpoint] Skepticism over APC

Relationships are a strange thing. As I grow older, my thinking on this issue becomes clearer.

When two strangers encounter each other and end up sharing their hearts, some kind of unexplainable dispensation appears to exist.

There are close friendships that we can expect to have, yet there are others that develop unexpectedly.

The close relationship between President Lee Myung-bak and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd falls into the latter of the two categories.

It would’ve been hard to imagine that the two would develop such close ties, as they have many differences.

Lee was born in 1941, while Rudd was born in 1957, meaning their age difference is more than 15 years. Lee is a conservative-centrist while Rudd is a liberal-centrist and a member of the Australian Labor Party.

I guess, at least, that both of them can insist that they are centrist pragmatists.

The two have different backgrounds as well. While Lee earned his chops a while back in the business world, for instance, Rudd is a long-time diplomat.

Yet the two have maintained an especially close relationship, and the international community is certainly aware of it.

Ahead of the Group of 20 financial summit in Pittsburgh in September, the two wrote a joint opinion piece that was published by the Financial Times, a British newspaper.

Since his inauguration, Lee has met with Rudd nine times, and they have had eight telephone conversations. The two practically meet in person or talk by phone almost once each month. Among leaders of foreign states, Rudd is the one that Lee most frequently contacts.

Lee almost had a 10th meeting with Rudd last week. Rudd invited Lee as a special guest to an international conference in Sydney.

The large-scale conference came a year after Rudd’s proposal of creating a tight network among countries in the region to create what he calls an Asia-Pacific Community (APC). About 140 senior officials, politicians, scholars and journalists from 22 Asian and Pacific nations were invited to the APC event, and Rudd asked Lee to give the keynote address to support his idea.

According to sources, Lee thought about participating in the event because Rudd personally invited him.

Presidential aides, however, reportedly advised Lee that he should skip the conference because the feasibility of the idea is questionable.

They also advised him that it is inappropriate for Lee to attend a semi-governmental and semi-private international conference, sources said.

The aides talked Lee out of going to the conference, and the president decided to send former Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, who has expertise in the international community, instead.

That’s why Han gave the keynote address at the APC conference in Sydney last week.

Rudd had invited Lee because he thinks Korea’s support is critical to moving the proposal forward.

The APC proposal revolves around the idea of bringing together a community of nations in Asia and the Pacific Rim by 2020 to oversee politics and economic and security issues in the region.

The idea is based on the idea that global power in the 21st century is firmly shifting away from the West and toward the Asia region.

With the rise of China and India, the thinking goes, a global order consisting of those two countries and the United States, Japan and Russia will arise. That could then lead to a serious crisis when a conflict of interests arises over economic, energy and resources issues.

Rudd, therefore, proposed that a community should be created, and that all five of those powers should join.

Taking into consideration the competitive relationship among the five nations, middle-powered nations of the region such as Australia, Korea and Indonesia must actively lead efforts to create the community, Rudd believes.

That is why he is aggressively engaging Korea. A new term has even been created around this idea: KIA, which stand for Korea, Indonesia and Australia.

Rudd put a serious amount of effort and energy into the Sydney conference, earmarking heaps of money to provide special treatment to the delegations of the participating nations.

During an opening address, the Australian prime minister made a strong appeal for the need to create the Asia-Pacific Community, and he brought delegations to his residence for banquets. In fact, Rudd appears to be putting all of his effort into promoting his idea.

And yet, participating nations were either skeptical or downright negative over his plan.

Singapore was particularly fierce in its opposition to the idea. The city-state argued that there are already existing organizations and conferences that aim for the same goal, including Asean, Asean Plus Three, the East Asia Summit, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Asia Regional Forum.

In other words, there isn’t a need to create an additional community, which would make the matter more complex. Singapore appears to be concerned that its established voice in Asean would be weakened if another new organization was created, and a consensus will be hard to achieve.

Given these circumstances, there appears to be no need for Korea to support Rudd on this idea, despite the nation’s close ties with Australia.

*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Bae Myung-bok
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