Transcript:

GEORGE NEGUS: Mr Keating, can we clean up an APEC conundrum that has been bugging me? I mean, who actually was the architect of APEC? Because depending on who you read, Bob Hawke pinched it from Gareth Evans, Gareth Evans pinched it from public servants.

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I mean, are you really the rolled gold architect?

PAUL KEATING, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: I am the rolled gold architect of the APEC leaders meeting. Bob is the rolled gold architect of APEC, the economic meeting.

GEORGE NEGUS: So I guess we can say this is all your fault then, those people who think the APEC thing is a bit of a farce?

PAUL KEATING: This part of it is, yeah.

GEORGE NEGUS: Can we talk about some APEC housekeeping. You have been pretty rugged on Sydneysiders who have been moaning and complaining about the inconvenience, you told them to grow up. Were you serious or was that a Keatingism?

PAUL KEATING: No, of course I'm serious. I mean, you know, you've been around public life long enough, George, to know the might of the world is here, the United States President, the Chinese President, the Japanese Prime Minister, the Indonesian President. We say, “No, please don't put us out to have your discussions.” I mean, give us a break.

GEORGE NEGUS: But is all this security really necessary? I mean, I spoke to Shimon Peres last year and he said he doesn't build fences and walls, he builds bridges.

PAUL KEATING: Yeah, I belong to that school. I never had a lot of security when I was Prime Minister. But things have changed and I can't really make a judgement about that.

GEORGE NEGUS: So you do think it's probably necessary?

PAUL KEATING: It is probably necessary.

GEORGE NEGUS: “The rabble-proof fence” it was described as by some card, I mean, how do you feel about the people who feel obliged to protest?

PAUL KEATING: But I'm not sure what they are protesting about. You know, what are they saying, that freer trade and more trade in the world hasn't lifted a billion Chinese out of poverty? Because it has. Is it not lifting people, I mean, 400 million people, I think, is the number of people that have been lifted out of poverty in Asia in the last decade. I mean, economic growth works. And this may not suit some people and they are saying that it's usury and we are using..

GEORGE NEGUS: There is an area of agreement between you and John Howard because that's his line.

PAUL KEATING: Yeah, well I agree with that line.

GEORGE NEGUS: You wouldn't deny them the right to protest, though?

PAUL KEATING: Oh, no, no. They can go for their life as far as I'm concerned, George. I've been a bit of a protester myself of sorts, for years.

GEORGE NEGUS: You have, you're an aging radical as we speak. Can I put it to you this way, reading what you've said over the last few weeks, leading up to APEC, and now it's on, as you see it, they seem to have lost the plot. As you put it, “a bunch of turkeys who aren't prepared to take on the big issues.”

PAUL KEATING: I don't think incrementalism in trade policy, APEC, the leaders meeting was not designed for that. You get the President of the United States to sit at the table with his counterpart in China and Japan, etc, and Russia, to resolve strategic issues. And there are big ones to be resolved.

GEORGE NEGUS: But they would say that is what they are doing, and that is what they are going to do.

PAUL KEATING: But they're not, though. They are not. They are just doing the trade. They are doing the sort of.. Comparatively, they are doing the knitting.

GEORGE NEGUS: As distinct from?

PAUL KEATING: From doing really big jobs, you know. So, OK, yes, is there a bit of a virtue in dropping further non-tariff barriers? Well, of course there is. The most important thing about APEC, though, is that it actually exists, that these leaders meet one another. You see, take George W. Bush and Putin, they will see each other again. Hu Jintao will see George Bush again. He will see his Japanese counterpart again. And that just means you get to know a person better.

GEORGE NEGUS: One of the things that fascinates me about it is that if it was your idea, I've never heard John Howard go along with anything that was your idea. Why has he gone along with APEC?

PAUL KEATING: Well, it is such a big I mean, he would never have put the APEC meeting. You can imagine him dealing with, You know, I told the story today, when I was trying to get Li Peng, who was the Chinese premier who presided over the Tiananmen Square massacre, into APEC, he was the premier then, because he said, “Oh, we won't be in it. We won't be there.” I said, “You'll be there, you'll be there because you have to be there. You are going to.. Let me get this right – you are going to turn up the opportunity of meeting the American president regularly and the Japanese prime minister you have never met regularly?” I said, “You will be there.” Anyway this was at dinner and so it got a bit heated.

GEORGE NEGUS: Who was this upstart taking on the Chinese Premier?

PAUL KEATING: And his wife tuned up and said, “Mr Keating, please have respect for my husband. He has recently had a heart attack.” So I got ticked off by the wife for knuckling Li Peng. But he turned up, you see.

GEORGE NEGUS: Can ask you, you believe.. When you've been quoted as saying this I found this one of the most astounding things I have heard from you for a while. “In my opinion, the most seriously dangerous part of the world is not the Middle East, it is North Asia within the triangle of unresolved tensions between China and Japan and the northern peninsula.” Now, when you said that, Alexander Downer said, you are unsophisticated, you're playing politics, you're way off the mark. And to suggest that these two countries are on the threshold of going to war is just absurd. Were you suggesting that?

PAUL KEATING: No. You see, what he did was exaggerate what I said and then put it down. I mean, but, look, with Downer we've sent a boy on a man's errand for years to try and deal with these countries. Of course North Asia is the most dangerous part of the world. If you look at Israel and the Palestinians, there is 4.5 million Israelis, there is about 1 million Palestinians. There is 1.3 billion Chinese and there's, you know, 160 million Japanese and 100 million Koreans, etc. It is weight that causes problems. I mean, when the Nazis hopped into the Russians, it was weight.

GEORGE NEGUS: They've got the numbers.

PAUL KEATING: And it is the weight of these great states, China and India and the antipathy between them, you know, the fact that the Japanese have never atoned for their war atrocities in China and the Chinese have never forgiven them.

GEORGE NEGUS: What are you saying we should be saying to them? Can you imagine John Howard and George Bush, or anybody else, any of the other leaders who are here, sitting down and lecturing the Chinese leader, the Japanese leader about how they ought to behave themselves in their part of the world? I mean, this brings again whether APEC really, really matters.

PAUL KEATING: But, George, you would be surprised how far you can get if you try, if you dare to try. How would I have gone, I mean, I remember when I started the thing about the leader's meeting. We had the little tut-tuts from foreign affairs here “Oh, very good, Prime Minister, and of course, you know, ambitious but it will never happen.” You would be surprised how much the Chinese and the Japanese would take notice of us, a middle power, now. But you have got to have your cards up. You can't be playing a sort of 3-game, 3-card game between the Americans ourselves and the Japanese with the Chinese not liking that. And at the same time go to the Chinese and try to enjoin them to do something good. Obviously you have to be the state that has good intentions.

GEORGE NEGUS: Does it bother you that Kevin Rudd or I will put it this way, do you think you could be a little more equivocal about his support for the US alliance? Because you can almost put, well this is almost a Keatingism, almost put a cigarette paper between him and John Howard on the Americans Alliance, except when it comes to the staged withdrawal from Iraq. Is he kowtowing a bit?

PAUL KEATING: Well, I made the point the other day. I think what an Australian leader should be doing, I gave the organ analogy, you play the keys in Asia and you pump the pedals in Washington. And that's what a smart government does. You know, what a dumb government does is I mean, the Americans do not want sycophants, they want helpers. They want states that help them. They would love to understand this part of the world better or, better, have us manage it for them. Instead of that, what John Howard has done is thrown all his eggs into the Washington basket and said ” Me too. We are with you, we're with you.”

GEORGE NEGUS: Are you confident that Kevin Rudd will be different?

PAUL KEATING: Oh I think he'll be different because Kevin understands the East Asian hemisphere better than John Howard does, and he is not inclined to compromise Australian national interest simply to serve the interests of Washington.

GEORGE NEGUS: Can I ask you a question? I don't think you've ever had to answer this question. What you feel about Australia and Iraq and the withdrawal from there.

PAUL KEATING: Well, we made a terrible mess of the country, 400 Iraqis died the week before last. If I was John Howard, I would hang my head in shame about all that. But we've made a terrible mess of the place. And there is a kind of moral issue about whether we remain a helper in the Iraq outcome. It's very hard to escape that point.

GEORGE NEGUS: Should Iraq be discussed at APEC?

PAUL KEATING: I don't think so because it's not an Asia-Pacific matter. And the other thing in the great scheme of things..

GEORGE NEGUS: It's an international matter, it is a world matter, it a global matter.

PAUL KEATING: It can be discussed but in the great scheme of things, in the weight of states, it's not, again, an issue.

GEORGE NEGUS: It is a security matter. You keep harping on about how this is all about security.

PAUL KEATING: Yeah, I know it's not security I tend to think of states in terms of tectonic plates. And the Chinese are a tectonic plate. You know, they are like the things that produce those tsunamis. The Japanese are a tectonic plate. Iraq is not a tectonic plate.

GEORGE NEGUS: We could go on. What about climate change? Is that an APEC issue?

PAUL KEATING: That could be an APEC issue, yeah, because it is a big issue. And the Asia-Pacific emitters are a bunch of bad guys when it comes to emissions and therefore it is a useful thing to do.

GEORGE NEGUS: Good to see you, again.

PAUL KEATING: Ok

George Negus interviews Paul Keating