CANBERRA, Australia, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Peace in Asia-Pacific will come only when the United States and its allies recognize China as a "great power," former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating said.
The Australian government also must step back from its close ties to U.S. foreign policy and take a more independent position regarding issues in Asia-Pacific, said Keating who was prime minister from 1991-96.
A more independent Australian foreign policy is essential, said Keating who was speaking in Sydney at the launch of a book on U.S. ties with China. Their relationship, he said, was central for Australia's peace and prosperity, a report by The Age newspaper said.
Gone are the days when the United States can hope to dominate Asia militarily.
''The presumption has been that the foreign policy of Australia is somehow synonymous with the foreign policy of the United States,'' he said.
''This, of course, could never have been broadly true, notwithstanding the points of coincidence from time to time in our respective national interests.''
Keating was at the launch of "The China Choice" by Australian National University strategic studies professor and former Defense Department official, Hugh White. White argues that the United States and China should come to a consensus over the region to avoid an outright military confrontation, The Age said.
The West too often focuses on China's human rights record and fails to acknowledge advances that Beijing has overseen to the lifestyle of the country's people, including better healthcare for millions of Chinese.
''A tenth of humanity (is) lifted to a way better life in a single generation. Yet the seemingly perpetual invocation of this human rights mantra attributes no moral value to the scale and quality of the Chinese achievement,'' Keating said.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard urged Australian businesses to better understand their Asian neighbors and customers of their goods and services.
Australia is in the Asian Century and businesses will need to adapt, she told an international summit in Melbourne, organized by the Australian public policy group Global Foundation.
"They will not do that by simply doing more of the same or by slashing costs and quality," she said.
"They will need to offer products and services with distinctive value, based on real areas of comparative advantage."
Gillard said Australia could boost its food exports to the rest of Asia.
"Just as we have become a minerals and energy giant, Australia can be a great provider of reliable, high quality food to meet Asia's growing needs," she said.
"In doing this, we are not just an exporter of commodities, but a partner in growing international markets and a provider of higher value products and services for the global food industry."
While the Asian Century offers business opportunities, the period also is bringing sensitive immigration issues for Australia and its neighbors near and far through ongoing people-smuggling activities.
Australia is struggling with an influx of illegal immigrants arriving by boat from as far away as Sri Lanka.
Australian detention centers are near overflowing, especially the main center on Christmas Island, a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean.
The island is about 1,600 miles northwest of the Western Australian city of Perth and around 220 miles south of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta,
Australia is working with its neighbors to arrest people smugglers and also to discourage people paying for passage in unseaworthy boats that often sink before reaching Australia, sometimes with deadly results.
This week Australian police in Sydney said they are watching stores that they suspect are helping people smugglers, The Australian newspaper said.
Many of the suspected shops, grocery stores and businesses, such as travel agents, use the traditional hawala system to help get the relatives of Iranian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees to Australia, The Australian report said.
The Australian Federal Police said their investigations are hampered by a lack of co-operation from the community and the informal nature of the hawala system.
Hawala relies on trust, with foreign-based agents releasing money once their local counterparts have received the corresponding amount, The Australian said.
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