Malaysians pour scorn on Australia's continental drift

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The Independent Online
Brunei - The battle of the maps broke out in Brunei yesterday with the Australians producing one showing it at the centre of Asia, and Malaysia insisting Australia is a separate continent "down there".

"This is where we live. This is where we find our security. This is where we can best guarantee our prosperity," the Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, told reporters at the end of a week-long meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The Australians distributed maps on Wednesday which showed Australia approximately in the centre of an eastern hemisphere with Siberia at the top and Antarctica at the bottom. Malaysia, which vetoed a suggestion that Australia be invited to an Asian and European leaders' summit next year in Bangkok, poured scorn on the idea.

"If I look at a map, I believe it says that Australia is not part of Asia," the Malaysian Foreign Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, told a news conference, which included the seven Asean foreign ministers and their Western counterparts. But he added that Australia "is increasingly looking towards Asia and is more with us and is increasingly identifying itself with some of Asia's concerns". He was less diplomatic on Wednesday, after Mr Evans unveiled his East Asian hemisphere concept."Go back to school," he chided an Australian reporter. "We are part of Asia and Australia is down there," gesturing toward the floor. "It's another continent."

Malaysia was the only country to object to Australia's inclusion in an inaugural summit of Asian and European leaders. Since Asean - which groups Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - operates by consensus, its objection was decisive.

The two countries have their differences. Malaysia nearly launched a trade war against Australia after the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, called his Malaysian counterpart, Mahathir Mohamad, a "recalcitrant" for boycotting the 1993 Asia-Pacific economic forum. Malaysia is also miffed that its East Asian Economic Caucus has been unable to get off the ground because of reservations by the US, Japan and Australia.

Mr Evans said that 60 per cent of Australia's trade, half of its immigration and four-fifths of its overseas students came from the region. Australia also had defence links with almost all of the Asean nations. "There's been a fundamental change in the general psychological landscape ... both within Australia ... and the way in which other countries look at us."