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Progress and limits in regional cooperation: Australia and Southeast Asia

Rodan, G. (2012) Progress and limits in regional cooperation: Australia and Southeast Asia. In: Cotton, J. and Ravenhill, J., (eds.) Middle power dreaming : Australia in world affairs 2006-2010. Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Victoria, pp. 165-184.


With the electoral defeat of the Howard government in November 2007, the incoming Rudd government attempted to revive active middle power diplomacy and extend Labor foreign policy traditions of global and regional multilateralism. The centrepiece of the latter was Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Asia—Pacific Community (APC), initially proposed as an ambitious European Union-style body additional to existing regional structures, none of which were considered adequate to a comprehensive and coordinated address of strategic dynamics. China’s rising economic and geopolitical significance and the growing importance of transnational security and environmental challenges were the chief items offered as the rationale for the APC.

Yet despite positive regional anticipation of enhanced engagement with the new Australian government, and some genuine concrete achievements in this vein, Southeast Asian leaders saw the APC as a threat to the status of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and therefore proved to be the principal opponents of Rudd’s new regional governance vision. Arguably the failure to mobilise effective regional coalitions around this key idea echoed some of Rudd’s domestic political problems, which contributed to his replacement as prime minister by Julia Gillard in June 2010 (Callick 2010d). In any case, following the August 2010 federal election resulting in a minority Labor government, Rudd’s appointment as foreign minister consolidated the government’s philosophical commitment to regional multilateralism.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation: Asia Research Centre
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Copyright: Australian Institute of International Affairs
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