Abbott set to adopt 'Asia-first' approach

Abbott set to adopt 'Asia-first' approach

SYDNEY - Although he was born in London and remains a social conservative and staunch monarchist who frequently praises Western values, Australia's incoming prime minister has increasingly turned his attention eastward.

Mr Tony Abbott's government is set to adopt an "Asia-first" approach to foreign affairs and pursue closer ties and consultation across the region, particularly with Indonesia and China.

The new foreign minister, Ms Julie Bishop, has been a steadfast critic of Labor's failure to consult regional leaders, particularly in the case of former prime minister Kevin Rudd's sudden effort to try to set up an Asia-Pacific community.

Ms Bishop said on Sunday she would pursue a "much wider relationship with China and a much deeper relationship with China". "We will be more consultative," she told Sky News.

"Our government will be one of no surprisesÂ… Leaders throughout the region were taken by surprise on a number of occasions, to our country's detriment, by the previous government."

As a policy pragmatist, Mr Abbott said he wants to ensure Australia's diplomats are guided by economic - as well as political - interests. But he is likely to take a more cautious approach to foreign investment.

In a move that is likely to upset Beijing, he has expressed concerns about purchases of Australian businesses and farmland by state-owned Chinese companies.

Some clues to the incoming Abbott government's thinking were contained in the Liberal-National coalition's foreign policy plan released last week, which said its focus will be on "consistency, stability and mutual respect".

The plan lists its top five relationship priorities as the United States, Japan, Indonesia, China and India.

It indicates a commitment to existing regional groups such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation rather than trying to build new ones, as Mr Rudd sought to do.

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