A New Asia Pacific Community

My proposal for an Asia Pacific Community (APC) stems from a simple but deep conviction: that we can act to create a future we want to have, or be passive as the future shapes us in a way we may wish it never had.

The Asia-Pacific region today is in immense flux. It is becoming the center of gravity of global economic and strategic weight in the 21st century, driven by a rising China and India. Japan has long been the world's second-largest economy. The countries of the region represent more than half of global production and close to half of world trade. They contain 60 percent of the world's population and account for about 70 percent of carbon emissions.

Many countries in the region are experiencing significant economic, social, and political change these days. Take, for example, the remarkable success story of Indonesia and its transition from a dictatorship to a prosperous multiethnic democracy. Our region is also home to the world's five largest militaries—those of China, the United States, India, Russia, and North Korea—all of which have nuclear weapons. And it is home to some of the world's potential flash points.

Today the region's biggest challenge is to man-age the inevitable stresses and strains these forces produce and their shifting economic and strategic contours. We need to manage such change peacefully, and avoid the mistakes of the first half of the 20th century, when rampant nationalism—unconstrained by regional institutions capable of smoothing the sharp edges of great powers—led to clashes with devastating consequences.

Above all, the Asia-Pacific is where the template for the U.S.-China relationship will be set and where their interests—competitive and complementary—will need to be managed, harmonized, and reconciled. U.S. preeminence has been the bedrock of Asia-Pacific stability and prosperity over the past six decades. Continued U.S. preeminence will re-main a bedrock, and the United States will be integral to the region for the foreseeable future.

But the shifting of economic and strategic weight to the Asia-Pacific has introduced a more complex dynamic, with a rising China at the forefront of this trend. We need a strong regional mechanism to ensure that this change does not produce friction or polarization.

A host of other pressures will be brought to bear with the shift of global economic and strategic weight to the Asia-Pacific. These include increasing potential for regional competition over power and territory, and over scarce resources—such as oil and gas, water and food—and the challenges created by pollution and energy security.

Given this, the overriding challenge today is to craft, through institutional design, a pacific century by developing a culture of cooperation, not conflict, between states.

This idea lies at the heart of my proposal for an Asia Pacific Community to come into being by 2020. There is currently no single institution in the region with the membership or mandate to address the spectrum of challenges the Asia-Pacific faces: economic, political, strategic, and environmental. We need such an institution to help us manage an increasingly crowded strategic landscape, to help ensure that outward-looking regionalism continues to be the core principle of Asia-Pacific integration, and, critically, to foster the habits of cooperation rather than conflict.

The good news is that this is a view increasingly shared in the region. Over the past 18 months, Australia's special envoy Richard Woolcott has held discussions on the concept of an APC across the Asia-Pacific. There is broad agreement that none of the existing regional institutions as currently configured—such as APEC or the East Asia Summit—is capable of coping with the full range of challenges we will face in the future.

There is growing interest in discussing this shortfall and what the right regional architecture should be. This desire has been reflected in strong regional participation in Australia's APC conference in Sydney in early December. It is also evident in the proposal by Japan's newly elected prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, to work to create a new regional institution.

Australia does not pretend to have all the answers, or to know what will ultimately work: we have no prescriptive view. My purpose has been to launch a discussion that could help identify the shared vision and goals for our Asia Pacific Community. This discussion is now well underway. And that makes it more likely that this dynamic region will choose to forge a future of strategic cooperation and community rather than one of strategic drift and enmity.