Gillard strides summit circuit

At the weekend, Julia Gillard again engaged in an important aspect of modern foreign affairs: a high-level regional forum, the East Asia summit in Vietnam.This is an important forum for Prime Minister Gillard, as its focus is on our region, rather than the daunting global agenda of the Brussels' meeting she recently attended. The Vietnam meeting was wide-ranging enough, with the United States and Russia as new participants.It is too early to speculate on its outcomes, but clearly Ms Gillard no longer finds such forums intimidating. Despite her recent claim that foreign affairs "was not her passion" she now seems to enjoy the experience.She was evidently well received and seemed at ease with other regional heads of state.She is doing well so far, though might never share Kevin Rudd's passion for in-depth dialogues with other world leaders.It could not be said John Howard cut a dashing figure in his first international sorties. Who can forget that photograph with the then Indonesian president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, holding back in an apparent attempt to avoid having to walk with Howard? To his credit, later he became much more at ease with regional leaders.So far, Julia has handled her public statements well, keeping them short, simple and to the point. She has met a number of leaders of nations important to Australia, including Wen Jiabao of China, Manmohan Singh of India and Japan's prime minister Yukio Hatoyama: leaders of the most powerful regional states and our major trading partners.The East Asia Summit now involves 18 nations. Some consider such talk-fests not particularly productive, but they help promote a consensus to deal with serious regional problems, as well as wider understanding. The Vietnam summit set out to promote regional co-operation in political, economic and security fields, in a sense moving this organisation in the direction of more developed forums, like the Council of Europe and the Organisation of American states.These forums function as a manageable sector of the United Nations community and our involvement in them is a matter of national interest. Ms Gillard intended to raise the proposal to set up a centre for asylum seekers in East Timor, but others might not have much enthusiasm for it.? ? ?This week, Americans vote in their mid-term congressional and senate elections in which, based on opinion polls, the Republicans seem likely to at least gain control of the lower house.That would not be a happy outcome for Barack Obama, who would have to confront a hostile Congress, determined to ensure he does not get a second term in office in 2012.It would be a dismal ending to a presidency that began with that emotional "Yes, we can" cry when Obama won office.Most presidents get a second chance, even Clinton and Bush, whose terms were not without controversy, but the Right is rallying to block Obama.It will be a sad outcome for all of us, for Obama has proposed important international reforms which could head off further economic crises like the GFC.Unfortunately, he inherited the economic mismanagement of his predecessors.I feel he has been unfairly blamed for America's sluggish economic revival, and the dismal prospects of the Afghanistan war launched by his predecessor.

  • James Dunn is an author with four decades of experience as a foreign affairs official and with UN agencies.

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