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Rudd-Gillard: Is Australia turning Japanese?

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COMMENTS

24 June 2010 14:37

Andrew O'Neil is Director of the Griffith Asia Institute at Griffith University.

The advent of Australia's first woman Prime Minister is a milestone in the country's development. Julia Gillard's replacement of Kevin Rudd following his resignation means that Australia now has a female head of government (Gillard) and a female Governor-General (Quentin Bryce).

But, to those in Asia and the US, the political demise of Kevin Rudd must look decidedly odd. He was yet to complete his elected first term in office, a premature exit that perhaps only former Japanese Prime Ministers can relate to. He was also Australia's most Asia-literate Prime Minister, which was exemplified by his fluency in Mandarin and his championing of Australia's high level engagement in its region.

Just last week Rudd hosted a high profile visit by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, Hu Jintao's probable successor. It occurred against the backdrop of a Sino-Australia relationship that has never been in better shape, thanks in no small part to Rudd's own knowledge of China and his personal commitment to improving ties with Beijing, despite differences over human rights.

It is difficult to see how Australia's relationships with key Asian partners will suffer under his successor — the Labor Party which she now heads is committed to a strong regional focus in foreign policy — but it is equally hard to see how she will be able to match Rudd's natural affinity with, and genuine knowledge of, Asian affairs.

The fall of Kevin Rudd also robs President Barack Obama of one of his key political allies on Afghanistan, climate change, and global economic reform. The two have struck up a close working relationship — an ideal fit as two like-minded policy wonks — and Obama will probably miss Rudd's close counsel on these, and other, issues.

Julia Gillard's rise to the prime ministership was due largely to Kevin Rudd's failures on the domestic policy front. Yet one of her biggest challenges will be ensuring that she maintains her predecessor's impressive management of Australia's key relationships in Asia and Washington.

Photo by Flickr user publik16, used under a Creative Commons license.

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