Tony Abbott's tour to Southeast Asia this week was immensely important. It announced an Australian pivot to Asia, to match, or more than match, the US pivot.
Like the US pivot it evoked a little Chinese unease, though that was a minor motif in a symphony of several big movements.
Abbott's Asia pivot gives life to his "Jakarta not Geneva" foreign policy. Labor true believers will hate this notion, and many media analysts will resist it, but Abbott has adopted a much more Asia-centric foreign policy than either the Rudd or Gillard governments.
There were several big themes from Abbott's trips (one to Jakarta, the other to Bali for APEC and Brunei for the East Asia Summit).
First, co-operation with Indonesia on all things, including stopping the boats, and a determination to lift the economic relationship.
Second, an emphasis on trade with an ambitious agenda of free trade agreements with Australia's key North Asian trading partners, China, Japan and South Korea, in which an Abbott government will display much more political will and energy than Labor did. There is also fresh commitment to wider regional free trade deals.
Third, re-commitment to the US alliance and to the US alliance system through Asia, the only Abbott strand to cause some unease in Beijing.
Fourth, a wide agenda in Southeast Asia, evident in Abbott's apology to his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Tun Razak, and in Julie Bishop's early visit to Singapore.
Fifth, an intense foreign policy partnership between Abbott and Bishop.
Sixth, a continuing commitment to upgrade relations with China and India.
Seventh, rhetorical modesty -- "It is not the job of the Australian Prime Minister to stand up and give lectures to the wider world" -- which is highly sensible for a new PM.
And eighth, perhaps most importantly, a commitment to friends and allies to run a "no surprises" foreign policy.
Taken together, Abbott's Asia pivot represents a new approach to Australian foreign policy, thoroughly workshopped between Abbott and Bishop, other senior ministers where relevant, Abbott's two foreign policy advisers, Andrew Shearer and Mark Higgie, and senior figures in the bureaucracy.
Abbott has given himself some big challenges with some readily measured benchmarks: can he sustain co-operation with Indonesia; will the three FTAs be completed within a year; can he maintain good and improving relations with Beijing while intensifying cooperation, including security cooperation, with the US and Japan? We'll know soon enough.
Abbott has also furnished us with a distinctive taxonomy of foreign relations. In his words, Indonesia is "in many ways our most important relationship". The US alliance is "the bedrock of Australian security". Japan is "Australia's best friend in Asia". China is "a good friend of Australia and I hope in the years to come China becomes an even better friend of Australia". India also is "a good friend of Australia and I hope in the years to come we'll have a more developed relationship."
These are important, defining statements early in the life of the new government. Many have serious operational consequences. Trade Minister Andrew Robb has a huge job ahead negotiating the FTAs. Bishop will need to make sure the "no surprises" commitment is a whole of government reality when it involves nations we have complex and diverse dealings with. That means no surprises in immigration, agriculture, investment policy and many other areas.
Most of all Bishop, Defence Minister David Johnston, the bureaucracy and Abbott will have to make sure Beijing is informed of every nuance of Australian policy, especially so that continuing policy is not mistaken for changed policy.
Beijing is involved in some robust disagreements with Japan over islands in the East China Sea, and with several Southeast Asian nations over islands in the South China Sea. Beijing also doesn't like the US pivot to Asia, which Abbott, like Rudd and Gillard before him, fully supports.