Australia's Rudd to visit US, Europe and China
The faltering world economy, climate change and the struggle against a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan will top Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's agenda at meetings in the United States, Europe and China. ( dpa )
Rudd, who leaves Thursday on his first major overseas trip since ousting John Howard's conservatives in the November general election, will meet US President George W Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, head of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Bush, who had a close personal friendship with Howard, met Rudd in Sydney in September at a regional summit and was advised of his plan to have Australia's 550 combat troops home from Iraq by June if he won the election.
"The truth is that Australia's voice has been too quiet for too long across the various councils of the world," the 50-year-old former diplomat said before his departure for the 17-day trip.
"That is why, during the course of the next three years, the world will see an increasingly activist Australian international policy in areas, where we believe we may be able to make a positive difference," he said.
Rudd, who will assure Bush that Australia will maintain its 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, is also expected to meet Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Campaigning himself last year, Rudd endorsed Clinton when asked by a television host which one he favoured.
Rudd will have lunch with Bush at the White House on Friday before leaving Washington for New York and his meeting with Ban Ki-moon. Officials said he would lobby for Japan and India to be given permanent seats on the UN Security Council.
Howard set greater store in bilateral cooperation to deal with issues like Iraq and global warming; Rudd sees multilateralism, particularly working through the UN, as the better way forward.
Rudd will be in Bucharest, Romania, for a NATO meeting next week that will focus on security in Afghanistan. From London, he will fly to China, where he will meet President Hu Jintao.
Australia's relations with China have become more complex, with Beijing angered by Canberra's decision last month to tighten the rules for foreign investments. The fear in Canberra was that strategic stakes in mining companies could help Beijing influence the pricing of its minerals exports.
The move was seen in Beijing as a deterrent to China's increasing its stake in Australia's mining sector.
Rudd, a fluent Mandarin-speaker, has been criticized at home for not standing up to China and for being timid in his criticism of human rights abuses in Tibet.
Japan was miffed that it didn't figure in Rudd's world tour, four days of which will be spent in China.