Prime Minister finds her diplomatic voice | Connect Asia

Prime Minister finds her diplomatic voice

Prime Minister finds her diplomatic voice

Updated 18 January 2012, 16:30 AEDT

China today buys 25 per cent of Australian exports and is our biggest trading partner making the relationship a crucial one.

So how successful was Julia Gillard's first trip to China as Prime Minister?

Presenter: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: Jenny McGregor, founding CEO of Asialink at the University of Melbourne

COCHRANE: Julia Gillard has admitted that foreign affairs is not her favourite thing in the world. In your view how did she go on this trip, let's begin with China?

MCGREGOR: I think that on this trip our Prime Minister has really found her foreign policy voice, and it's great to see that in a really complex environment she's managed to balance our various interests and she's also managed to balance the many, many voices of advice that she had prior to departure for China, many people calling for her to raise all sorts of issues across the whole spectrum. And that's very difficult because we know how sensitive China is at the moment. China's a new emerging power, a rising power, a current power, and China is very used to being a major global power but is very, very sensitive. And so of course the delicate issue of human rights is going to present a challenge, and I think that our Prime Minister did very well by us in terms of balancing all of those interests, but focussing on the big issues, focussing on the trade relationship, the very, very important relationship for us, also addressing the security relationship, and paying attention to the human rights agenda.

COCHRANE: Did she come across as a Prime Minister do you think? Did she sort of rise in stature during this trip?

MCGREGOR: I think she certainly rose in stature internationally. It's one thing to be a prime minister in your domestic space, but it's a very different thing to be on the world stage. And the relationships in our region are very complex, they're changing every minute they're changing. We've got a new major East Asian summit coming up this year with America and Russia now in that summit, and Australia's role in that's going to be important. And having really positive relationships in our region, in our region is the most important thing a prime minister can do for us I would argue. And I think our Prime Minister has done that beautifully, and quite interestingly as a woman I think that she has really demonstrated a capacity to have a relationship on a very human level. And it was interesting to me to see her in Japan, the very first trip, where with Prime Minister Kan she was really feeling the pain and the huge distress of the Japanese people in a very, very human way and that was greatly appreciated.

COCHRANE: What about the other major stop-off in Korea, and she went to the border zone of the North and South Korea, how did she go with the Korean relationship?

MCGREGOR: I think that she was affected by that North Korean experience in the way that most outside leaders are very, very powerfully, and in a way that provided the background for again a very, very important relationship then with President Lee. And they clearly had a very warm relationship, their greeting was extremely close and warm and that's really important for Australia, because Korea as another middle power and a very important trading partner for Australia, is also traditionally a very important foreign policy partner for us. And if she has that human relationship at the leader level, as she does now in Japan and Korea, that's very important for our relationships across the whole region.

COCHRANE: And she was accompanied of course by quite a significant trade delegation. How helpful is it to have the backing of money essentially behind you when you're coming into a diplomatic scenario?

MCGREGOR: It's hugely important because the trade relationship is a fundamental pillar of our relationship and our wellbeing and our prosperity. And the fact is these countries are most important to us, and so those business leaders being there signalling the importance of the current relationship but also the potential of it. There's much greater potential in these relationships. We've got free trade agreements under negotiation, I think this visit will have played a very important role in pushing those negotiations forward.

COCHRANE: Do you think there has been concrete movement towards free trade agreements say with South Korea?

MCGREGOR: Yes I think that's moving, China's a more difficult one, there is some stopping blocks in the way there and I think a leaders visit is always very important in pushing those forward, and that means greater prosperity for all of us.


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