The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Bush’s mistake in Southeast Asia

Notwithstanding Iraq, John Howard’s foreign policy doesn’t suck as much as his domestic policy, and he’s done a reasonable job at relations with the eastern half of Asia. So his visit to East Timor today, for instance, will probably be a good thing for long-term links. (That is, assuming that their country can get some political stability after June’s inconclusive election that left the top two parties with a quarter of the vote each.)

Meanwhile, George Bush seems to be forgetting that East Asia exists, or something. In the last week or so his aides have been on the back foot defending why he’s pulled out of a planned informal meeting with ASEAN leaders in Singapore (just before APEC in Sydney), and why Condoleezza Rice won’t be going to the ASEAN Regional Forum. This continues recent trends whereby senior US officials have turned down invitations for dialogue or sent minions instead, and isn’t going to help perceptions that Bush cares only about the Middle East.

Adding this up with the ever-growing anti-American sentiment among people in the region (thanks to said Mid-East policy) leaves me wondering whether the US will find itself decreasingly relevant in East Asia at a time when China is flexing muscles. At the very least, Bush’s successor next year will have their work cut out for them …

  1. [...] participants — particularly John Negroponte, who attended for the US in Condi Rice’s absence — were asking around to see who’d be willing to send some troops. So this is one of the [...]

  2. ‘John Howard’s foreign policy (has)…done a reasonable job at relations with the Eastern half of Asia’. (or something like that) I tend to disagree there- I think Howard’s East Asian policy has been pretty lame- aside from trying to suck as much money as possible from China, (who isn’t)Howard has signifiantly moved away from the Asia-Pacific integration that Keating (despite his many, many shortcomings) was quite active in promoting. In general terms this is pretty evident in his rhetoric and privileging of the US-Australia alliance. It will be interesting to see the cossies that foreign leaders attending the ARF will be forced to wear. hu jintao in the baggy green anyone? that would fit into howard’s narrow definition of australian identity no doubt. Feel free to disagree as long as it’s not framed with the word ‘respectfully.’ such wank.

  3. Not at all — I was hoping someone would disagree with me on this post, and you’ve kindly stepped up to the plate :-)

    Obviously Howard’s foreign policy is very different to Keating’s, and I confess I don’t know as much about the latter as I probably should. I tend to think of foreign policy under Howard as having two parts: one where he’s buddy-buddy with G.W. (Iraq, Afghanistan, AUSFTA etc.) and another where he engages with Asia. As Jie once said to me, if you’re a hardliner in keeping a close relationship with the US no one will accuse you of hurting that alliance when you go strengthen ties with China as well.

    I don’t think Howard’s done that much in the area of getting Chinese money spent here (heck, Alan Carpenter’s probably done more) aside from some talk of a free trade agreement with China, which would be good to have.

    But he has done a mostly-good job at attending regional meetings, travelling overseas to ensure Australia gets noticed, communicating with foreign leaders, that kind of thing. He was a little bit responsible for getting Australia into the East Asia Summit, took action in East Timor and the Solomons, and negotiated with Indonesia on defence. So (unlike George Bush, say) I think he’s doing well at keeping Australia connected with Asia. (But then maybe I’m just reframing the question on you.)

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