The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
 FORMER MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, AUSTRALIA

Speech

Canberra, 8 August 2005

Biennial Sir Arthur Tange Lecture in Australian Diplomacy

Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, HE Dr Ivan Fsadni, High Commissioner of Malta, and Excellencies

Parliamentary Secretaries and colleagues

Heads of Commonwealth Departments and Agencies

Members of the Tange and Westerman families

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

I want to welcome you all this evening to an important new series of lectures on Australian diplomacy and trade policy.

These lectures will provide a significant opportunity to reflect each year on the challenges, enduring and new, that confront the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and to highlight the Government's strategies in advancing Australia's interests.

New challenges will arise and some current ones will remain.

We will respond to these in Australia's interests basing our strategies on a clear-sighted and principled understanding of changes in Australia's international environment.

And we will draw on what is best in the strong and creative traditions of Australian diplomacy - distinctively Australian traditions that reflect our unique circumstances and our own values.

Those traditions have been shaped in no small part by Sir Arthur Tange and Sir Alan Westerman, two giants in the evolution of Australian foreign and trade policy.

Accordingly, I have decided, with the Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister, Mark Vaile, to establish a new annual tradition - a foreign and trade policy lecture series that in alternate years honours the memory and achievements of each man as it charts emerging strategies for dealing with current policy challenges.

This year I am delighted to deliver the first Biennial Sir Arthur Tange Lecture in Australian Diplomacy.

Next year Mark Vaile will inaugurate the Biennial Sir Alan Westerman Lecture in Australian Trade Policy.

It is a pleasure this evening to honour the late Sir Arthur Tange - a formidable personality, a source of wise counsel, an astute strategic thinker, a practical administrator and a man who epitomised the highest traditions of the Australian Public Service.

Sir Arthur served as a Commonwealth government department head for nearly a quarter of a century.

He provided outstanding leadership to two major departments of state, the Department of External Affairs and the Department of Defence.

His insight and effectiveness as an adviser and administrator, and his abiding commitment to the pursuit of Australia's enduring interests in the world, made an extraordinary contribution to the evolution of public policy on various fronts.

He left a particularly enduring mark in terms of the Australia-America alliance and the development of strong collaborative relationships between Australia and our Asia-Pacific neighbours.

Those priorities remain fundamental objectives of contemporary Australian diplomacy and I wish to focus on them this evening.

In 1954 Foreign Minister R.G. Casey chose Arthur Tange to succeed Sir Alan Watt as Secretary of the Department of External Affairs.

Tange's reaction to this was apparently to exclaim: 'But I'm only 39! What will I do for the rest of my life?'.

He need not have worried. His contribution and involvement - already significant - would continue to grow.

Arthur Tange was born in Sydney on 18 August 1914. His family was not wealthy, and young Tange worked diligently to put himself through studies at the University of Western Australia, combining a first class degree in economics with representative rugby.

Indeed, Tange played for Western Australia in a match against the Springboks in 1937.

After graduating he was employed as an economist at the Bank of New South Wales, before being drawn to public service as part of the Department of Post-War Reconstruction created in 1943.

From there he was seconded, and later permanently transferred, to the Department of External Affairs as a result of which he had several overseas postings.

The mid to late 1940s was a period of major change in the way nation states interacted on economic and political issues, highlighted by the Preparatory Commission for the United Nations and the development of the Bretton Woods Agreement and international trade and labour institutions.

It was a period in which Arthur Tange brought his skills to bear as part of Australia's contribution to the evolution of the post-war international system and the development of our role in that new and different world.

Tange's skills were also applied to relationships closer to home - to the enduring benefit of Australia's interaction with countries in our region.

Sir Arthur was a man who understood the importance of Asia in Australia's future.

Tange played a central role in the evolution of the Colombo Plan - the international scheme for the provision of economic and technical assistance from developed countries to the developing countries of South and South-East Asia.

The Colombo Plan had an enormous impact on the region and on Australian society.

It assisted the development of regional countries.

And through Australia's very significant contribution, it fostered people-to-people links between Australia and Asia in a way that has been hugely influential.

As Secretary of the Department of External Affairs between 1954 and 1965, Tange continued to influence and implement the Government's wider policy of promoting closer engagement with Asia.

He supported a strengthening of relations with Japan and committed energy, insight and initiative to developing the department's role in that process.

Sir Arthur headed Australia's diplomatic service during a period in which Australia's overseas network was consolidated and expanded, particularly in Asia and the Pacific.

Posts established in his time included Phnom Penh, Vientiane and Fiji in the Asia Pacific, along with our mission to the European Communities and a small network in Africa.

Sir Arthur was deeply committed to Australia's alliance with the United States, underpinned by the ANZUS Treaty negotiated by Spender in 1951, and he was dedicated to consolidating it, particularly as the Cold War intensified.

And he did so in his characteristic manner - putting forward his views against a backdrop of what he saw as Australia's clear interests.

At the time when Sir Arthur became head of the Department of External Affairs in 1954, the department itself was in many ways still a fledgling institution.

His astute management of the policy agenda and his commitment to the administration and development of the department, its processes and its officers, ensured that its status and influence as an important agency of government grew.

Following his time as Departmental Secretary, Sir Arthur Tange served with distinction as Australia's High Commissioner to India for five years, working energetically to strengthen the Australia-India relationship.

He was prescient in recognising and working to develop the synergies and complementary interests between Australia and India - a priority to which I am particularly committed in contemporary circumstances.

As head of Defence in the 1970s, Sir Arthur oversaw the amalgamation of the previously separate service departments into the unified department we have today.

This was an enormous undertaking by any standards.

But Sir Arthur's focus was not limited to immediate administrative matters.

He was also deeply involved in the overarching policy deliberations of the time, particularly the transition from Australia's then policy of 'forward defence'.

In all that he did, Sir Arthur upheld the highest standards of the Australian Public Service.

He offered frank and fearless advice, respectfully advocating what he saw as being in the national interest and loyally serving the government of the day.

It is true that he did not always see eye-to-eye with all the Ministers he served - and he liked to remind me of that fact!

But his forthrightness and well-considered positions earned him great respect.

And when the government of the day decided its policy, having taken account of his and others' views, Sir Arthur saw to it that such policy was duly implemented.

Sir Arthur Tange was a member of a distinguished cohort of economists, including H.C. "Nuggett" Coombs, Sir Frederick Wheeler and Sir Roland Wilson who played pivotal roles in modernising Australian public administration in the years after World War II.

He was known as a rigorous, tough but fair leader who did not play favourites.

His standards of accountability were high and uncompromising.

The strategic environment today has changed in ways that were unforeseeable when Sir Arthur Tange was at his most active and influential in public administration and public policy.

He did not live to see the devastating brutality of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States and the subsequent outrages perpetrated by global terrorism.

We face a new set of challenges from those of Tange's era.

But we can learn important lessons from his achievements that can help guide us today.

Lessons about the linkages between our foreign policy and our strengths and values as a nation.

Lessons about being uncompromising in analysing the reality of the threats and opportunities we face.

Lessons about the central importance of alliances with others whose interests we share.

And lessons about building new coalitions of interest in meeting emerging challenges.

Australia, the United States and China

International relations have been transformed since the end of Sir Arthur's distinguished career - transformed in shape and substance.

Four critical developments, more than any others, have been at the heart of that change.

And they will continue to shape the international system well into the future.

First was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the implosion of European communism.

This produced a fundamental realignment of nations, the spread of democracy and unchaining the aspirations of hundreds of millions.

It represented the final discrediting of central economic planning and the end to the curtailment of liberties that was at its heart.

Most recently, we have seen the savage explosion of global terrorism.

Fanatics have abused religion and used terror to attack values such as freedom, democracy, tolerance and moderation.

Whether it be in New York or Bali, Spain or the United Kingdom, Egypt or Morocco, their intent is to kill the innocent, inflict as many casualties as possible, and instil fear among the survivors.

These agents of global terrorism are not amenable to reason or negotiation.

They wage war in the shadows and through loose but deadly networks.

New strategies are required to overcome them - strategies built on deep reserves of resolve and will, on international co-operation and, where necessary, on armed response.

A third great force of change in world affairs has been the spread of powerful and affordable communications technology.

This has accelerated and broadened the dissemination of all kinds of information.

For countless millions around the world, it has been a liberating and hugely empowering development.

For all but the most autarchic and isolationist of governments, it is no longer possible to deny populations direct and instant access to knowledge of global developments.

The internet, in particular, has enabled broader and deeper links between people irrespective of distance and sovereignty.

It has opened up new and expanding avenues of non-governmental associations.

Strong, effective and accountable nation states remain, as they were in Sir Arthur Tange's era, the most effective agents of order, prosperity and justice in the international system.

But unlike Sir Arthur's era, new technologies have facilitated ways for groups of people to make their views heard nationally and globally, and to shape policy directly and quickly.

A fourth great transforming event has been the rise of China.

China has evolved from the self-imposed isolation of its early decades of communist rule.

It has emerged as a modern State actively engaged in the multilateral system.

It has become a competitive economic power benefiting from and contributing to open global markets for trade and investment.

Some say that the rise of China will inevitably require - probably sooner rather than later - a defining strategic choice for Australia between our strong alliance with the United States and our developing relationship with China.

I regard this view as fundamentally mistaken.

It is founded on false premises.

It is unthinking historical determinism, a projection into the future of perceived circumstances the continuation of which is far from inevitable.

It misjudges the character of Australia's separate relationships with the United States and China, and of relations between China and the United States.

It is not inevitable - indeed, it is not likely - that an irreconcilable, increasingly destabilising and ultimately confrontational strategic rivalry between China and the United States will develop.

Nor is it likely that countries like Australia will be confronted by some great strategic choice between starkly opposed alternatives.

I say this not out of any kind of Panglossian complacency.

It's a considered judgment of where I believe the real interests of the United States and China lie.

China's rise does involve issues of competitiveness to which many other countries, including Australia and the United States, must respond.

China's rise also creates new scope for constructive global interaction which needs to be explored fully and positively.

This is the challenge that lies at the heart of the modern US-China relationship, and China's relationships with many other countries.

The challenge of constructively managing elements of competitiveness, recognising differences and actively pursuing openings that serve bilateral interests, as well as those of the wider world.

These elements of competitiveness and difference, and these objectives of common interests, embrace a wide range of diplomatic, security and economic issues.

Both the United States and China have demonstrated over recent years a determination to deal sensibly with specific areas of friction in their relations on the basis of mutual respect.

Both have shown a commitment to cooperate in areas of common interest such as the peaceful management of tensions on the Korean peninsula and issues across the Taiwan Strait.

Both understand their growing stake in the other's ongoing economic success and in strategic stability in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond it.

Both contribute importantly to Asia-Pacific regionalism, particularly but not exclusively through involvement in key regional associations such as APEC.

The argument that Australia needs to choose definitively between its alliance with the United States and its links with China also misjudges the nature of Australia's relationship with each of these countries.

Australia pursues its own national interests.

We thus pursue increasingly important relationships with both the United States and with China.

But they are very different kinds of relationships - different in their historical evolution, different in the interests on which they are based, different in their intensity and different in their scope.

These relationships are the outcome of choices made by successive Australian Governments based on clear-sighted assessments of Australia's interests.

Such assessments continue to guide our approaches to these important partners.

Our relationship with the United States has never been stronger or closer than it is today.

It is built on an alliance of interests and values.

It is founded on the ANZUS Treaty that has endured and strengthened over more than half a century.

It is an alliance which remains a foundation of Australian security and contributes significantly to the stability of our region.

The alliance we share with the United States is not directed against any particular country or group of countries.

It is an alliance to advance the common security interests of Australia and the United States.

In so doing, it enhances regional stability generally.

The strength of the Australia-US alliance is built on shared democratic values and strategic perspectives.

It draws on a history of common sacrifice and effort to support and enhance those values and perspectives over generations.

It is sustained and strengthened by a wide range of contemporary purposes that unite us.

We share vital commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan where we are helping the people of those countries overcome tyranny and establish democratic societies.

We co-operate closely on counter-terrorism and non-proliferation issues.

We have continued to expand our long-standing co-operation on defence and intelligence.

We share with the United States a strong commitment to the promotion of security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

And we both embrace the expansion of economic opportunity, in our two countries and globally, underpinned by the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement and working together closely on a range of shared objectives for the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations.

Australia's relationship with China is very important and fast expanding.

It is also qualitatively different from the relationship we share with the United States.

I believe that China's leaders understand and appreciate this reality very clearly.

Australia brings to the relationship with China a spirit of ambition without illusions.

We see a confident, peaceful and prosperous China, with an open market economy and constructively engaged in global and regional institutions, as an enormous asset for the Asia-Pacific region and the wider world.

We are highly ambitious about the exploitation of economic synergies between Australia and China, about the expansion of increased trade and investment, including through a Free Trade Agreement, and about the diversification of our economic interaction.

We are also ambitious about the development of links between our two peoples, particularly in terms of educational exchanges and tourism.

And we are ambitious about the gains from interaction between us in regional associations such as the forthcoming East Asia Summit and APEC, and on issues of regional significance such as stability on the Korean peninsula and maritime security.

We are also realistic.

We are committed to a relationship with China that is positive and pragmatic but clear-eyed - focused on particular and important areas of mutual self-interest.

We recognise that Australia's and China's approaches to issues such as democratic freedoms and human rights will differ.

Each party sees this reality.

We share an important and ongoing dialogue that we can build a better mutual understanding of our perspectives on these issues.

But neither of us has illusions about our differences.

We are realistic in our recognition that our relationship with China is sufficiently mature, deep and productive to develop despite disagreement on some issues.

Particular disagreements are part of a broadening and increasingly diversified interaction between two countries which have very different political systems.

But they need to be seen in proper perspective.

They do not prevent the development of a mutually and intensely beneficial relationship.

We are realistic in our recognition that increasingly productive areas of interaction between Australia and China will be pursued at the same time as we consolidate and expand Australia's other important relationships.

As we develop our relations with China we are also strengthening and diversifying our longstanding partnership with Japan, opening up new dimensions of co-operation with India, and pursuing a wide-range of other opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

The Australian Government will pursue these goals, as we pursue co-operation with China, because they enhance Australia's prosperity and security.

Above all, we are realistic in our recognition that we will advance Australia's interests with China best by co-operating on shared objectives rather than focusing relentlessly, intensively and disproportionately on those matters where our experience and perspectives differ.

Asia-Pacific Regional Architecture

Another critical issue for the future of the Asia-Pacific is the shape of the region's institutional architecture.

Here, too, Australia's and the region's interests will be served best by focusing on areas of common interest rather than differences.

Australia has long taken the view that institutions of regional co-operation will work best when they are open and inclusive in character and when they are practically focused on key regional priorities.

Last month at the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference in Vientiane historic progress was made towards the building of such institutions in the Asia-Pacific.

We were delighted with the invitation from ASEAN Foreign Ministers for Australia to participate in the East Asia Summit to be held in Kuala Lumpur in December.

The Summit will bring together the leaders of the ten ASEAN countries as well as those from China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The invitation to Australia to participate follows our decision to accede to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Co-operation on the basis that our accession will not affect our existing bilateral and multilateral treaty commitments or our rights and obligations under the UN Charter.

This outcome constitutes a very significant step forward in our engagement with ASEAN, and with the nations of East Asia generally.

It is also a very important foreign policy achievement for Australia.

It enables us to contribute directly to this significant regional initiative with the potential to enhance the cohesiveness of regional responses to transnational threats and to promote freer flows of trade and investment.

The EAS has been proposed and shaped by Asia, for Asia, in a way that is inclusive and open.

It has the potential to build important new dimensions of economic linkage and strategic association, and Australia is very pleased to be fully involved with it from the start and to contribute constructively to its outcomes.

We do so without any illusions about the different perspectives and values among EAS members.

But that, in itself, should not inhibit its productiveness in important aspects of regional security, trade and investment and in addressing regional contingencies.

Our focus needs to be on what unites us rather than our differences.

The EAS is not an end in itself but one means towards the objective of building more effective regional associations of practical benefit to the Asia-Pacific region.

Those associations can be reflected in structures that evolve to meet specific regional needs - examples I would cite are the Six-Party Talks on North Korea and the Trilateral Security Dialogue between Australia, Japan and the United States.

The strength of regional association is also reflected in existing forums such as the ASEAN PMC, the ASEAN Regional Forum and APEC, and through landmark initiatives such as the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate that Australia, the United States, China, Japan, India and the Republic of Korea launched in Vientiane last month.

These regional fora and initiatives are signs of a new sense of inclusive regionalism and a clear recognition that many of the challenges which the region faces require effective regional co-operation.

Australia will play a full and active role in these processes and our doing so marks a major milestone in our growing engagement with the countries of the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia, Regional Engagement and the American Alliance

I have referred to the choice which some say Australia needs to make between its alliance with the United States and our developing links with China.

And I have set out why I see that choice as both unnecessary and undesirable.

It was not that long ago that another strategic choice - which would have been similarly limiting in its scope and which was similarly mistaken in its prescription - was being urged upon Australia.

It was argued by some that Australia's reinvigoration and intensification of our alliance relationship with the United States had inexorably diminished Australia's capacity for direct involvement in regional institutions in the Asia-Pacific and in contributing influentially to regional policymaking.

It was claimed that, by strengthening and broadening Australia's alliance with the United States, the Australian government was cutting itself off from necessary and desirable Australian engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.

We were told that regional countries and regional institutions would somehow categorise Australia in a special way, that Australia be would be denied the full benefits of association with a dynamic evolving regionalism in our part of the world and that Australia's foreign and trade policy interests would be diminished as a result.

It was argued that the pursuit of a closer strategic cooperation with the United States and involvement in 'coalitions of the willing' such as that in Iraq would diminish our prospects for closer economic and security engagement with the countries of the Asia-Pacific region and marginalise our involvement with them.

These arguments were hollow at the time - often made to try to inflict domestic political damage - and subsequent developments have clearly shown them incontrovertibly to be wrong.

It was a flawed critique which promoted a phoney strategic choice.

One of the great defining achievements of Australian foreign and trade policy over recent years is that Australia's alliance relationship with the United States has never been stronger and, at the same time, Australia's engagement with the countries of the Asia-Pacific region has never been closer, more extensive or more productive.

In fact, what is clear is that the strength of our relationship with the United States has positively enhanced the scope and effectiveness of our engagement with regional countries and institutions.

Australia's achievements have come about through a clear focus, through much hard work at a government and community level, and through increasingly shared perspectives on particular bilateral and broader regional interests.

We have achieved this without the obsequiousness of the past.

Australia needs to look to its future in the region with ambition and realism, and not simply be satisfied with our considerable achievements over recent times.

Many challenges exist.

Many opportunities remain to be fully realised.

But it is important occasionally to reflect on the scale of what Australia has achieved in and with our region over recent years, and the broader context in which we have done so.

Australia is now actively involved in the region in an unprecedented way.

We will be hosting the annual meeting of the most comprehensive of these regional groupings - APEC - in 2007.

And we are involved intensively and creatively in a wide range of others, including the East Asia Summit.

We have worked intensively and innovatively over recent years with regional countries to develop a highly activist agenda of counter-terrorist and counter-proliferation activities.

This has included eleven Memoranda of Understanding with regional states to enhance counter-terrorism co-operation.

We have co-hosted with Indonesia an Inter-faith Dialogue involving most regional states and a wide variety of faiths.

We have also very successfully initiated a range of measures with regional countries to address people-smuggling issues in the Asia-Pacific.

And we have done so at the same time as our significant defence links with regional countries have continued to strengthen.

Australia's assistance to regional countries, and to Indonesia in particular, following the Boxing Day Tsunami met an unprecedented humanitarian need in an historic way and we hope that it provides an enduring legacy of practical partnership.

Modern Australian foreign and trade policy pursues the global interests on which Australia's security, prosperity and international cooperation are based.

It also has an abiding priority in the Asia-Pacific region in terms of Australia's most immediate opportunities and responsibilities.

What we can rightly claim to have achieved over recent times is a highly productive pursuit of both our global interests and our regional priorities, and to have done so without making strategic trade-offs between the two.

We have advanced Australia's interests in the world, and in our region in particular, on the basis of a clear and consistent representation of Australian values, perspectives and aspirations.

Conclusion

Can I just stress in closing that this evening's lecture honours the achievements of an outstanding Australian public servant, a man of high principle whom I had the pleasure of knowing personally over many years - Sir Arthur Tange.

I also wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the late Lady Tange, a wonderful partner for Sir Arthur throughout his many decades of service to the nation, a woman of achievement in her own right, and warm friend to all who knew her.

I would also again like to acknowledge and thank the members of the Tange and Westerman families who have been able to join us this evening.

I am delighted that there will be an important addition to the public record early next year with the first full biography on Sir Arthur, written by Peter Edwards who has also joined us this evening.

Next year Mark Vaile's inaugural Sir Alan Westerman Lecture will honour the memory and achievements of another outstanding leader in the Australian public service and outline the inspiration which modern Australian trade policy continues to draw from his legacy.

Sir Arthur Tange and Sir Alan Westerman were both distinctive characters in their own right. But they shared a common commitment to good public policy, to service in the public interest and to the highest standards of integrity.

We honour them best by applying the same high standards and the same clear pursuit of Australian national interests in meeting the very different and evolving challenges of our own times.

ENDS