Michelle Grattan
The Age
January 3, 2009

KEVIN Rudd’s proposal to establish an Asia-Pacific community is running into a reality check: most countries say they would prefer to adapt an existing institution than set up a new body.

The Prime Minister’s idea faces a crucial test when it is formally put to the Obama Administration by Dick Woolcott, Mr Rudd’s envoy, in late February or March.

The message from the Americans is likely to be similar to that which Mr Woolcott, formerly one of Australia’s most senior diplomats, has received so far in his travels, which have taken in 16 countries. Regional governments feel that adding another institution — when there are so many already involving a lot of meetings for leaders — would not be desirable.

Mr Woolcott yesterday told The Age the most preferred options from his discussions were to adapt either the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum or the East Asia Summit.

efoodsMr Rudd said in June: “We need to have a vision for an Asia-Pacific community” involving an institution that spanned the entire region and was able to engage in the full spectrum of political, economic and security dialogue. He said it should be set up by 2020.

One big issue now emerging is whether to aim for a big or relatively small body. “The larger the organisation, the less likely it is able to achieve consensus and take effective action,” said Mr Woolcott, who is in the final stage of canvassing the idea, with coming trips to Russia, Vietnam, the US and Canada.

In the US he is hoping to meet Hillary Clinton, who is to be the new secretary of state. A request is also to be put in for him to talk to Barack Obama, but this may not be possible — unless Mr Rudd presses the case in a phone conversation with the new president after the inauguration.

There is likely to be a meeting with the incoming deputy secretary of state, Jim Steinberg, and with Susan Rice, the incoming US ambassador to the United Nations, who will be a member of the cabinet.


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