How Trade May Corral Australia's 'Sheriff' ; Australia Must Sign a Regional 'Amity and Cooperation' Treaty to Attend the East Asian Summit in December

By Janaki Kremmer Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 2005 | Go to article overview

How Trade May Corral Australia's 'Sheriff' ; Australia Must Sign a Regional 'Amity and Cooperation' Treaty to Attend the East Asian Summit in December


Janaki Kremmer Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


In a decision that could take the shine off his role as the "deputy sheriff" of the region, Australian Prime Minister John Howard appears to be on the verge of signing a nonaggression pact with other East Asian nations.

The move, once unthinkable for Mr. Howard, is a prerequisite for an invitation to attend the East Asian Summit, a weighty new regional group that meets in Malaysia this December. Howard, a strong ally of President Bush, had previously dismissed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, or TAC, which commits members not to attack each other, as an outdated concept.

Some observers also suggest Howard is reluctant to take a step that could be seen as curtailing - at least symbolically - Australia's security clout in the region.

But Aldo Borgu, program director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra says the government shouldn't worry so much about the implications of the nonaggression pact.

"The government should just eat crow and sign because the treaty is really symbolic in nature and if any member's national security was threatened at any stage, they would not hesitate to ignore the treaty," Mr. Borgu explains. "No one seriously believes that these countries won't fight with each other when it comes to the crunch, but in Asia, symbolism and face-saving plays a big part, and Australia must realize that."

Other members of the group - the 10 nations of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian nations, plus Japan, South Korea, and China - have all signed the peace pact and are preparing for the upcoming summit. The new group will formally link Southeast Asia to the economic powers of China, Japan, and South Korea for the first time. Everyone wants a piece of the action.

Howard was invited to attend its summit for the first time last November. India, which has also been invited to the East Asia summit, signed the treaty of nonaggression in 2003 at the second ASEAN-India summit in Bali. Regional neighbor New Zealand has also agreed to sign. The United States, however, has noticeably been left out of the equation.

"Australia usually puts a premium on the US being engaged in Asia, but a grouping such as this, which might have political clout in the future as well, is something Canberra can't afford to ignore," says Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Australia, however, wants guarantees before it agrees to sign the treaty. Howard is negotiating for full participation in the summit process and not merely inclusion at the inaugural meeting in December.

Australia also wants recognition of its security alliance with the US as defined in the ANZUS treaty, which commits Australia to come to the aid of the US if it is attacked. …

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