John Howard's first overseas trips as prime minister were to the Pacific Forum, in the Marshall Islands, and to Indonesia and Japan. The main aim of the visits to Asia was to emphasise that the new government remained committed to forging strong relationships with its Asian neighbours, and to dispel any impression that it was less open to Asian engagement than its predecessor.
--and risks Chinese ire
Mr Howard met in September with the Dalai Lama, despite warnings from China that to do so could damage Australia's relationship with China. A previous meeting between the Dalai Lama and the minister for foreign affairs, Alexander Downer, had already led to Chinese displeasure, despite the claim that the meeting was in a personal rather than official capacity. In this context, Mr Howard's explanation that he would meet the Dalai Lama in his capacity as a religious leader, rather than as the head of the exiled Tibetan government, is unlikely to placate Beijing.