Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer
E and O E
China: Asia Leaders' Forum - Mr. Downer's Opening Speech
23 April 2000
The following is a transcript of a speech given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer, at the opening reception and dinner of the Asia Leaders' Forum, at the Beijing Grand Hotel, Beijing, Sunday 23 April.
Thank you professor Niland. May I acknowledge Tang Jiaxuan, my ministerial colleague and friend, the Foreign Minister of China, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Let me begin first of all by saying, as the Chairman of the Council of the Asia Australia Institute, I am delighted that the council and forum are meeting in Beijing this year. As Foreign Minister Tang and I have been discussing this afternoon the bilateral relationship between Australia and China is a very strong and very fruitful relationship. I know that both of our countries benefit greatly from it and we look forward in the years ahead to continuing to build that relationship in the constructive way we have done so in recent times.
Let me also say that there is not only something appropriate about having this meeting in Beijing because of the strength of our bilateral relationship but also because at the heart of this institute is Professor Stephen Fitzgerald. Not only is he a distinguished leader of the institute but it is worth reminding ourselves that he was the first Australian Ambassador to the People's Republic of China. I think all of us appreciate the magnificent job he did many years ago to cultivate the relationship.
The focus of the discussions at the forum this year is the topic of new regionalism. I don't want to get too much into that debate today but I really want to leave you with a couple of points about this issue of regionalism from Australia's perspective.
The first is this, for Australia, engagement with our neighbours in east Asia is at the heart of our foreign policy. Economically 52.5 percent of our exports go to east Asia, an enormous amount of investment flows in both directions between Australia and our neighbours and our neighbours and Australia, importantly from China into Australia as well as Australia into China, and our security as Australians is obviously tied up with the security of east Asia itself. For all of those reasons it is both inevitable and obvious that engagement with our own neighbourhood must be the priority of our foreign policy.
The second point I want to make is that as for regionalism itself. Wherever it may be, there are essentially two types of regionalism.
The one is what you might call a cultural regionalism, a regionalism which is built on common ties of history, of mutual cultural identity. One might more broadly describe them as emotional links. That type of regionalism exists in many parts of the world. As far as Australia and its engagement with Asia is concerned one of the issues that you can debate tomorrow is the extent to which that is relevant to Australia and its engagement with the region.
The second sort of regionalism is what I would call practical regionalism. This is where regionalism achieves practical goals which cannot be achieved through the more general and relatively popular process of globalisation or indeed at the national level. This is the sort of regionalism that accepts that regionalism isn't some kind of a creed but is a way through which countries by definition are proximate to each other, are able to achieve mutually agreed goals.
We see manifestations of that in our region through institutions such as APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Post Ministerial Consultation process. I think from Australia's perspective we will increasingly see the AFTA (the ASEAN Free Trade Area) - CER (Australia and New Zealand Closer Economic Relations) process, develop as well. These are good examples of what I call practical regionalism where countries which are bound together by geography find practical ways of working together to achieve their mutual objectives.
I'd like to conclude my remarks where I began them and that is once more to say how delighted that my friend and colleague, Foreign Minister Tang, has come to be with us tonight. It's been a delight to work with him as Foreign Minister over the last couple of years. And to say that I very much look forward to working with him in the future and appreciate the contribution he's made to Sino-Australian relations which I think are in very strong shape.