The Asia-Pacific region, as we have seen in recent weeks, is undergoing a critical “pivot” to the center of U.S. foreign policy. As Ken Lieberthal wrote in his recent Foreign Policy article, “America is going to play a leadership role in Asia for decades to come.” Likewise, Australia will play an important role in assisting the U.S. to meet its objectives.
By virtue of geography, Australia has always been closely linked with its neighbors to the north, yet many Australians are unwilling to consider themselves as “Asian” either in spirit or culture. Still, whether Australians like it or not, the country’s successes and failures are now closely aligned with the positive and negative outcomes of the political and economic developments that happen in their backyard.
For example, the challenges in dealing with unauthorized boat people arriving on Australia's shores were an unwanted externality of the Vietnam war in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the country struggles to deal with refugees fleeing war-torn countries in South Asia and the Middle East. More positively, Australia has largely weathered the global financial meltdown unscathed, thanks mostly to China’s nearly inexhaustible appetite for Australia’s vast mineral resources.
It is upon this mixed relationship with Asian affairs that Australia’s foreign minister Kevin Rudd will speak at Asia Society on Friday, January 13. The former prime minister's talk, entitled “The Asia–Pacific Century, Shaping the Future,” will address the coming decades that will include increased inter-regional economic relations, as much as increased inter-regional security concerns. At the center of the discussion will be the newly minted Trans-Pacific Partnership, which seeks to improve trade relations, as well as U.S. membership in the East Asia Summit, an annual security meeting in the region.
It is clear that Asia will increasingly matter to Australia. What is less clear is how the country will now balance its approach, given its important relationship with America.
Foreign Minister Rudd's remarks will be followed by a conversation and a question and answer period moderated by Asia Society President Vishakha Desai. Can't make it to this program? Tune in to AsiaSociety.org/Live from 12:30 to 2:00 pm ET for a free live video webcast. Online viewers are encouraged to submit questions to [email protected].