Reflections on a Balancing Act: Australia’s relations with China and the United States in the context of ASEAN

Bob Carr, Former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Professorial Fellow at the Southeast Asia Centre, the University of Sydney

Co-presented with the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, the China Studies Centre and the School of Languages and Cultures, University of Sydney the University of Sydney

26 November

In this talk–part reminiscence and part reflection on the future–Bob Carr will discuss the challenges faced by those who manage Australia’s foreign affairs as they attempt to balance our traditional commitment to the United States with our developing economic and political relationship with China.

Nowhere is it more important that the government get this right than in island and mainland Southeast Asia. Both China and the United States are attempting to influence the thinking of the leadership and win the hearts of the populations of the ten member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The competition has been heating up. The US has had some success in pulling Myanmar away from China’s embrace and most recently has tried to embarrass China over the paucity of China’s contributions to the Philippines in the aftermath of typhoon Hayan. The question for Australians is how do we meet the needs of our old alliance with the US while at the same time avoid alienating China and closing the door to a relationship that, properly managed, could develop into a deep friendship and be of great benefit to all parties.

Bob Carr


Bob Carr was Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs from March 2012 to September 2013. As Senator Carr he worked to build stronger relationships with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and to restore global diplomatic relations with Myanmar following the government's release of opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. He was also extremely active in supporting Australia's relationship with Indonesia.

Bob Carr trained as journalist and worked with ABC Radio and The Bulletin. Elected as ALP Member for Maroubra in 1983, he was Minister for Planning and Environment and Minister for Heritage in the Wran and Unsworth Governments. He served as Leader of the Opposition from 1988 until his election as Premier in March 1995. He was re-elected in 1999 and again in March 2003 securing an historic third four-year term. He retired from politics in 2005 after over 10 years as Premier.

Bob Carr has received the Fulbright Distinguished Fellow Award Scholarship and the World Conservation Union International Parks Merit Award. He has served as Honorary Scholar of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue and was formerly a member of the Board of Directors at the University of Sydney’s US Studies Centre. He is the author of Thoughtlines (2002), What Australia Means to Me (2003), and My Reading Life (2008).

He retired from the Senate in October 2013 and has taken up a Professorial Fellowship with the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre at the University of Sydney. As a Professorial Fellow, Senator Carr will play an active role in the life of SSEAC, engaging with academics and students, representing the University in the public sphere in Australia and promoting it in our region and beyond.