Interview with Paul Keating

Paul Keating, former Australian PM and one of the founders of the APEC forum, joined RT to comment on the forum's significance and the changes it has undergone.

Paul Keating: I built the first meeting in Seattle with President Clinton in 1992, and I built it so that we had the capacity, strategically, to resolve strategic matters which can only be resolved by heads of government. So it is a very important body.

Russia Today: It has been 18 years since the first APEC summit was held here in Australia. How did this organisation change?

P.K.: Well, a big change was to get from an ordinary economic meeting to a leaders’ meeting. That was the big challenge. The great thing about the APEC leaders’ meeting is its informality. For instance, your President Putin on this visit will be able to meet, if he wishes, bilaterally the 21 leaders from around the Asian Pacific – the U.S., China, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, as well as at the meeting itself. So we have the plenary meeting, but we also have this informal ability without summits, without the necessity of having a summit meeting, of leaders being able to meet all the other leaders within two or three days.

RT: Organising such an event is always a very difficult task. In your view, what would make a successful summit?

P.K.: I think APEC has now got to move away from just economic issues. We can talk about the Doha Round ,we can talk about climate change, but we should also talk about strategic issues, the growing arms race in North Asia, the growth in Japanese armaments, the growth in Chinese armaments, the antipathy – a kind of quiet hostility that still exists between China and Japan. A body like APEC can do two materially good things – helping China find a long-term place for Japan in its scheme of things, and helping Japan come to terms with the rising China.

RT: The APEC decisions are not binding for its members so, in your view, is this organisation effective?

P.K.: You know what happens at international forums, particularly at foreign ministers’ forums – going on and on, round and round in circles. What leaders can do is cut through all this, because they have the power to cut through. So, APEC informality – the fact that your President, President Putin, gets to see George W. Bush again, gets to see the Prime Minister of Japan, the President of China – so you get to know one another. That means that you get a certain friendliness. And this means that suspicions tend to drop, and this is really a very effective way to run international policy.

RT: If you were a Prime Minister, would you organise this summit differently?

P.K.: I wouldn’t organise the meeting differently, but I would organise the agenda differently. We’ve got to set the world up to run more co-operatively. Great states like China, India, Russia should be brought into world affairs and not in some way held out. The problem is that the world is still set up on the template of 1947, as the World War Two pre-set template, more or less frozen. And time has overtaken it. When the Cold War finished we had a great opportunity of restructuring the world order so that we have a more representative structure. That never happened. The Americans more or less cried victory and walked off the field. Fifteen years have passed, years have passed of lost opportunities, in making the world more peaceful, safer and more productive. So if I were the Prime Minister of Australia now and the Chairman of this meeting, I would be trying to set up a far more representative world order than the kind of world order that we see today, which is essentially the Americans and their sort of a uni-polar, single force; Europe scattered, China or India kind of left out, and Russia hanging out on the border. This is not good.

RT: I’ve just read one of your articles which is entitled “Time for Russia to be one of us”. Russia has been a member of the APEC group for ten years now. Why do you think it took so long for this time to come?

P.K.: Because it is ten years since I was Prime Minister, that’s why. If this had been ten years ago and I had still been the Prime Minister here, I would have been doing things to bring Russia, China, Japan into a better amalgamation, a greater and more representative power, amalgamation with the United States. The current structure of power in the world today is immature and doesn’t represent a kind of world we now have. But even at this APEC meeting that is not happening. But because it is happening here in Sydney I wrote some articles in the newspapers for Australians just about Russia. We are reminding people here that 26 MLN Russians died in the WW2. That the defeat of Germany in the Second World War the principle burden for that was carried by the Russian people and that Russians are entitled to their peace and their prosperity, and we should do all that in our power to accommodate it.

RT: But you also pointed out that Russia is still a state under suspicion. Why do you think it is?

P.K.: Because of the immaturity of the U.S. and the European statesmen. This is the time to bring Russia into Europe, not to regard it as some sort of alien force. And the attempts by NATO or the U.S. to build a missile-defence shield around Russia as a sort of front garden and side driveway, whether in Czechoslovakia or somewhere else, is, I believe, ill-advised and doing nothing to integrate Russia in the greater European framework.

RT: The APEC summit coincides with the first-ever visit of a Russian or Soviet head of state to Australia. What is the significance of this visit?

P.K.: Australians should celebrate this, we should renew our efforts to put the 20th century behind us. It was a sad century for Russians. First you had the Revolution, then you had the Purges, then you had World War Two, then you had the Cold War, and then the poverty which followed the Cold War. Russia has paid enormous price through the 20th century and I think, I want the Australian people to understand that, and to try and begin anew the relationship we have with Russia.

RT: One of the areas where Russia and Australia have been co-operating is the nuclear sector. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Australia has been supplying the material to Russia which is an issue of concern for some here in Australia. What do you think about that?

P.K.: Russia was the second state in the world with nuclear weapons. It is one of the states in the world most heavily into the civil use, the peaceful use, of nuclear power. If we can’t rely upon Russia to use Australian uranium properly, we can rely upon nobody. Russia is a signatory to nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and I expect all signatories to be good people and people of integrity. So if we provide Russia with uranium, that uranium would not be given to third countries for weapons. If Russia says it won’t, I accept, it won’t.

RT: Well, the elections are coming up here in Australia, elections are coming up in Russia, presidential elections in the United States. So, the next APEC summit and the one after that will be very different in terms of personalities. How do you see the APEC future?

P.K.: Well, what my hopes are – in one world – is ambition. Policy and ambition. The leaders themselves have to take charge of the meeting. And if the leaders take charge of the meeting, matters will get done. I’m often asked what the ingredients of leadership are. It only has two – imagination and courage. If you’ve got imagination without the courage there is no point, and if you have courage without knowing what to do – there is no point. But what we need in APEC are the leaders using imagination and courage to map out a better world and not leave it to the old post-World War Two institutions – the UN, the IMF, the World Bank – they are there, but we can do better than them.