On 26 June 2018, the Perth USAsia Centre hosted Australia’s Ambassador to ASEAN, Ms Jane Duke, for a roundtable discussion at the University of Western Australia. The discussion, which included senior representatives of Government, academia and the private sector focused on the topic ‘Australia – ASEAN Shared Prosperity’. The roundtable explored Australia’s strategic partnership with ASEAN, and opportunities for Australian businesses to build new forms of engagement with this dynamic region.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a ten-member regional bloc organised to promote cooperation, economic integration and regional stability in Southeast Asia. ASEAN is already the world’s fifth-largest market, with a fast growing and urbanising population of 640 million people. ASEAN is expected to grow
its economy at over 5 per cent per year over the next decade.
While ASEAN is already Australia’s second largest trading partner, as its middle class grows there is increased demand for higher-quality consumer goods and services.
While ASEAN is already Australia’s second largest trading partner
, as its middle class grows there is increased demand for higher-quality consumer goods and services. As such, there are tremendous opportunities for growth in Australia’s two-way trade and investment flows. In recent years, the Australian business community has increased its interest
in the Southeast Asian region. Australia’s long-standing educational programs with ASEAN countries, and established Southeast Asian diaspora, are important drivers for enhanced economic relationships.
The establishment in 2015 of the ASEAN Economic Community
is advancing the realisation of an integrated single ASEAN market. This will enable the free flow of goods, services, investment, capital and skills, which will support Australian trade, investment and business certainty in the region. A significant component of ASEAN’s economic initiatives is the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025
. For ASEAN to grow sustainably over the coming decades, large investments in economic and social infrastructure, including in the energy, transport and digital sectors, need to be made. ASEAN is leading FTA negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership
(RCEP), and four ASEAN Member States are signatories to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership
(CPTPP). These trade liberalisation initiatives will support ASEAN successfully implementing its economic integration initiatives.
Australia’s Mission to ASEAN
Australia’s permanent Mission to ASEAN
is headquartered in Jakarta with the ASEAN Secretariat, and is responsible for advancing Australia’s interests with ASEAN via the ASEAN-led processes. The Australia-ASEAN relationship is longstanding, with Australia becoming ASEAN’s first dialogue partner in 1974
. In 2014, Australia and ASEAN elevated their relationship to Strategic Partnership
status, intensifying economic and strategic initiatives at the highest bilateral and multilateral levels.
An important recent development was the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit
in Sydney in March 2018, and its lead-up CEO Forum and the Counter-Terrorism Conference. The Special Summit was the first time ASEAN’s leaders had convened in Australia, and a suite of commitments on enhanced cooperation were articulated in the joint statement
. These sixteen initiatives
included cooperation mechanisms in the counter-terrorism, security, economic and education domains.
ASEAN Diplomacy and the Indo-Pacific
ASEAN’s geography gives it a strategic location at the heart of the Indo-Pacific region. Its member states face the Indian and/or Pacific Oceans, and many perimeter the busy maritime highways of the South China Sea. As such, ASEAN’s importance to the Indo-Pacific will only enhance with the growing economic and strategic weight of the region.
ASEAN’s also plays a key role as the “convenor” for the region, as the hub around which the East Asia Summit
(EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum
(ARF), the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus
(ADMM+) and the ASEAN Plus Three Cooperation
(APT) are organised. Its central position in the regional architecture has long been recognised by Australia and other countries as a critical locus for cooperative efforts across the economic, security and socio-cultural domains.
Occasionally, ASEAN faces challenges when member states have differing views on issues, which is a natural occurrence given the diversity amongst its membership.
ASEAN is founded on principles of consultation, consensus and non-interference, as enshrined in the bloc’s Declaration
. Occasionally, ASEAN faces challenges when member states have differing views on issues, which is a natural occurrence given the diversity amongst its membership. Importantly, ASEAN’s established dialogue mechanisms, especially at the leader and senior ministerial level, ensured that the processes for discussion, norm-setting and cooperation are entrenched.
Australia’s Future with ASEAN
As ASEAN celebrates its 50th anniversary
in 2017, Australia championed the central and essential role of ASEAN in underpinning regional peace and development. As Southeast Asia expands over the coming decades and further opportunities present themselves to Australia, ASEAN will become an increasingly important part of Australia’s regional diplomacy.
Australia’s engagement with Southeast Asia is strengthened by active engagement with ASEAN. The Australian Government is entrenching cooperative initiatives with ASEAN in established domains such as in counterterrorism
, and via new forms of cooperation such as in digital trade
. This integrated diplomatic effort coordinated to help ensure Australia remains an enduring partner in ASEAN’s future. As indicated in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper
“Australia places high priority on our bilateral relationships in Southeast Asia and on our support for ASEAN. The Government is enhancing engagement with the region to support an increasingly prosperous, outwardly-focused, stable and resilient Southeast Asia.”