Thursday, April 28, 2005

Pragmatic Amity

The Howard government has displayed an unusual degree of political pliancy in recent weeks, making adjustments to “iron-clad” saftey-net guarantees, revisiting the maritime boundary dispute with East Timor and reviewing the treatment of refugees.

This new-found flexibility has been particularly evident in the government’s approach to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Initially rejected by Howard as anachronistic and merely symbolic, signing the treaty has since become desideratum for ascension to the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Now you might wonder what could be the problem with amity and cooperation. Well, according to prime minister Howard, the treaty reflects “outdated values, relations and ideas” (read Cold War era neutrality) which may impinge upon our subserviance to America.

Howard seems to prefer relations and ideas that provoke conflict and encourage contempt for international treaties. And his sidekick, Lord Downer, an embarrassingly outspoken critic of the UN treaty system, also apparently discounts the value of friendship and cordiality.

According to Downer, a willingness to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation would be seen as weak and mendicant. “Australia doesn’t need to go begging”, he told ABC radio last week.

But given Howard’s record of unprovoked aggression based on bogus intelligence and in defiance of international law, it is not surprising that our neighbours are concerned about his refusal to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.

While some people may deride the inevitable decision to sign the treaty as a political back-flip, such a reversal will surely benefit our relations with the region and cannot possibly harm our security.

Symbolism can be an important part of foreign relations, especially when it truly reflects good will and friendship between neighbours.

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