The Guardian 13 April, 2005


Behind the back-slapping

If anyone imagines that the Howard government has seriously changed its attitude towards Asia as a result of the back-slapping given to two Asian leaders who visited Australia last week, they are much mistaken.

Howard pointedly refused to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation that has been adopted by SE Asian countries and also adopted by China and several other Asian countries. Howard claims that the wording of the treaty is out of date and that events have “moved past” such a treaty.

The treaty calls for the countries joining to be guided by the fundamental principles of mutual respect; the right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion; settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means; the renunciation of the threat or use of force; and effective cooperation among themselves.

Such principles are totally foreign to the Howard government which has put forward its right to make “pre-emptive strikes” against any country that it chooses. If it were to join the treaty of amity and cooperation it would have to renounce pre-emption and this it does not intend to do. The Australian government has no intention of giving up its policy of pre-emptive strikes and its colonialist ambitions as a partner of the United States.

So why is the Australian government pressing so hard to attend the inaugural meeting of SE Asian countries, plus China, Japan and South Korea at a summit due to be held in Kuala Lumpur later this year? Australia would join as a spoiler, intent on breaking up the unity of the ASEAN ten and their relationships with one another based on the principles of the treaty. It is the same sort of role that Britain plays in its relations with the European Union. Britain’s basic position is one of alliance with the United States. It has had only one foot in the European Union so that it can continue to play a spoiler role on behalf of the US in Europe.

Howard’s spoiling tactics are already evident in the overweening attention given to Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono, and the huge financial contributions promised to Indonesia following the two earthquakes that devastated parts of Indonesia. These contributions are motivated much more by the government’s political objectives than by any genuine compassion for the casualties of the earthquakes.

The Howard government wants to weaken Indonesia’s relationship within the ASEAN grouping and turn it into an irritant for other East Asian countries.

The real basis of Howard’s foreign policy was clearly expressed in his address to the Lowy Institute several weeks ago. He made no mention of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation but spoke of Australia’s alliance with Japan and the US. He applauded the remilitarisation of Japan which he described as a “quiet revolution in Japan’s external policy”. He regarded it as a “welcome sign of a more confident Japan assuming its rightful place in the world and in our region”.

Howard said that “within the framework of [Australia’s] alliance with the US, Japan has taken on important out-of-area security responsibilities, including in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq”.

Another reason for hanging on to the policy of pre-emptive strikes is that the Howard government is preparing to join the United States and Japan, should some conflict arise in the Taiwan Straits in the event of Taiwan declaring its “independence”. The US is encouraging the Taiwanese separatists behind the scenes.

During the Lowy Institute address Howard said that “in the context of our one-China policy, we continue to urge restraint and a peaceful resolution of issues across the Taiwan Straits”. His call for “restraint” is directed to China, not to the Taiwanese separatists whom he failed to mention. It is the actions of the Taiwanese separatists and the threat of US intervention that are the only cause of tension in the region.

In our view, Australia has no place at the table of SE Asian countries until the government abandons the policy of pre-emptive strikes and adheres to the principles of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.

The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation can be viewed at

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