Oz PM Gillard cautious, modest and awkward on global stage

Monday, November 1, 2010

HANOI - At last week’s ASEAN and East Asia Summits, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard certified that “foreign policy” was not her “passion”, and more often than not, appeared cautious in her footwork, modest in her goals and as awkward in the company of global leaders as her predecessor Kevin Rudd was ambitious and at ease.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Gillard ducked every big question about how Australia should engage with the forces that are reshaping the Asia-Pacific region.

The paper said Gillard is focusing her diplomatic energy on the most domestic of foreign policy challenges: stemming the arrival of refugees into Australia.

It is no coincidence that she is in Malaysia today and will fly on to Indonesia, when the support of both countries will be crucial in slowing the flow of refugee boats.

Her tentative early steps on the world stage are unlikely to reassure some analysts - such as the Lowy Institute chief, Michael Wesley - who worry that Australia lacks not only the capacity “but also the predisposition to do hard thinking”.

But while Gillard was low-key, she also did what she set out to achieve.

She has strongly supported the East Asia Summit’s evolution into a forum that is capable of mediating political and security disputes between global powers - again building on Rudd’s efforts.

And she quietly made a series of substantial gestures of support for Association of South-East Asian Nations members, including 7500 university scholarships over the next five years.

Gillard is likely to grow into her international responsibilities and, in the meantime, she is sensibly avoiding unforced errors and accepting the steady guiding hand of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Secretary, Dennis Richardson. (ANI)

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