Australia ‘s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been a notable force in the Gx process.  Indeed, Australia has been a major winner in the creation of the G20 Leaders Summit.  From a ‘no club role’ in global governance, Australia is now 1 of the 6 Asian countries – China, India, Japan, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea and Japan – that represent the region in the key economic global governance institution.

And the region – writ large - has been much on the mind of this ‘new’ Prime Minister.  In fact at the invitation of the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy, Richard Woolcott, I will be joining many other experts and officials from around the Asia-Pacific region for a two-day conference (December 4th-5th) in Sydney.  The Conference – ‘Towards an Asia-Pacific Community’ (APc) is designed, according to Woolcott, to undertake the following:

The purpose of Australia’s APc initiative is to launch a process of dialogue – a regional conversation – to make a start on collectively designing an overarching and effective regional architecture, and on engendering a stronger sense of the need for a region-wide will to work and plan cooperatively and in as coordinated a fashion as possible.

The Prime Minister has signaled this Conference for some time.  Indeed the Prime Minister has urged an active construction of regional governance architecture.  As the Prime Minister argued in November 2008 in a speech to the Kokoda Foundation:

The experience illustrates the importance of pre-emptively shaping our future environment to position the region to address future challenges, and highlights the need for us to develop strong institutions which foster trust and cooperation to underpin peace and stability.

But I suspect that the motivation is more than that.  While there is a multiplicity of institutions in Asia and in the Pacific – with the key ones being ASEAN and APEC – they serve separate architectures and functions. ASEAN and its many extensions – ASEAN +1 (China), ASEAN + 3 (China, Japan and the ROK) (APT) ASEAN + 6 and 10 are principally designed to build, or to reinforce an Asian community with SE Asia at the core.  It is consensus driven and pragmatic and has evolved slowly.  Along the way it has spun out a security forum – the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).  In addition a Summit has evolved – the East Asian Summit (EAS).

 APEC, with a Summit attached since 1994, and now consisting of 21 countries on both sides of the Pacific has remained focused on trade and investment – a commitment to open markets.  The clearest expression and commitment by APEC to open markets has been the Bogor Declaration – calling for removal of trade and investment barriers by the developed states by 2010 and the developing countries by 2020.

So while there are numerous institutions of regional governance – what there isn’t is a regional organization that addresses not just economics and politics but also addresses regional security matters.  And that means a regional security organization that includes the United States.  The United States has maintained a presence in the Western Pacific since World War Two but has been anchored there through a series of bilateral security arrangements – with Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Australia.

So for the Prime Minister, the future world as he sees it, and expresses it – for instance in his Shangri-La Dialogue speech in May 2009 – “The simple truth is this; that much of the critical history of the 21st century will be written, shaped and lived out here in our region.”

The second element of the PMs thinking then is that, as this dynamic region for the future steps forward there is much potential for conflict:

The convergence of: demographic change; population movements; environmental change, energy pressure; resource pressures; global public health concerns; mass migration flows; transnational crime and terrorism will increase rather than reduce the risk of conflict.

Ergo!  A security organization where a needed dialogue can occur and a committed involvement of the United States can be secured.  As the Prime declares:

We need a body that brings together the leaders of the key nations in the Asia Pacific region – including Indonesia, India, China, Japan, the United States and other nations – with a mandate to engage across the breadth of the security, economic and political challenges we will face in the future.

So for the future regional and global governance the region requires an APc that promotes economic and political momentum but additionally nurtures, “a culture of cooperation and collaboration on security."

The question however, is whether the officials and experts from around the region see the need for a Pan Asian Pacific community on the same terms that the Australian Prime Minister does?  Do others see the need to integrate the US in the same way?  Do others feel the need to open a security dialogue?  Is the future a Pacific community or still an Asian-focused community built on the bedrock of ASEAN?

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.
to cigi