Australia's PM dismisses as load of nonsense questions about its identity

Australia's prime minister on Wednesday dismissed as a load of nonsense questions about its identity, whether it is East Asia or a piece of Europe grafted onto the region. But he made it clear that Australians are not Asians. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has been the most vocal of Asian leaders in refusing to accept Australia as part of the region, an issue debated whenever Canberra makes economic and political overtures to Southeast Asia. The question was raised again this week at the inaugural East Asia Summit, to which Australia was invited after it was agreed that the name of the meeting was only cosmetic and not a restrictive geographical description.

Addressing a news conference at the end of the summit, Howard sought to put the debate at rest, saying Australia was not East Asian, but simply Australian.

"I don't feel East Asian. I feel Australian," he said. "I have had a very clear view on identity for a very long time. I've never felt anything other than a passionate Australian nationalist. Why wouldn't I? Why shouldn't I? We've accepted who we are," he said.

"It's an Australian identity. We are obviously conditioned by our history. We are all aware of those values and philosophies that have conditioned the values of the Australian people. The frantic search for a precise, unanimously accepted definition of who we are is a load of nonsense," he said.

At another news conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was asked if India, Australia and New Zealand can be part of an East Asia Community being envisaged by the East Asia Summit. The summit brought together, these three countries, China, South Korea, Japan and 10 Southeast Asian countries.

Abdullah replied: "I don't know how the Australians will regard themselves as East Asians, or New Zealanders for that matter." But he added that "we are talking about common interests. If our friends are willing to contribute through such a forum as the EAS, then they are welcome," he said.

"If you are talking about cooperation, about strategic and geopolitical considerations ... their participation is important for the future of the region," he said. Australia has also been the odd man in Asia because of its extra-close ties to the United States, reports the AP. I.L.

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