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Australia and ASEAN: More loopholes than Swiss cheese

ASEAN
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News Analysis |

Australia’s Prime Minister, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP hosted Australia’s first-ever summit with ASEAN on Australian soil on March 17-18, 2018. He has welcomed the leaders of ASEAN states who participated in the Summit. Australia has remained ASEAN’s first dialogue partner more than a half-decade before.

Some of the ASEAN states proposed to give full membership to Australia in the association. Australia is considering this proposal in order to enhance trade relations with the member states. Australia-ASEAN trade is currently close to A$100 billion (US$77 billion), with investment flows hitting a high of A$225 billion (US$173.5 billion) in 2016. These countries receive as much as 12% of Canberra’s total exports, with as many as 100,000 Southeast Asian students fueling Australia’s education sector. Australia and ASEAN have declared a joint statement assuring their strong commitment to cooperate for shared interests and security objectives.

Read more: How can improving ties with ASEAN help Pakistan?

It is to be seen whether Australia will be given a membership in ASEAN in coming years but there are some common areas of cooperation which have been discussed in the summit. As terrorism is a global phenomenon and it needs a global effort for their national security. In this context, a “Memorandum of Understanding” between the (ASEAN) and Australia on Cooperation to Counter International Terrorism was signed in this summit. Nuclearization of Korean Peninsula complex maritime issues, including food security and livelihoods, piracy, cybersecurity, defense; maritime; economic; urbanization and infrastructure; connectivity; education; health; and women, peace, and security to further strengthen our strategic partnership and North Korea’s nuclear missile programs were under discussion.  They announced to be committed on the regular exchanges of visits of the heads of the states in order to achieve their targeted goals.

Furthermore, ASEAN and Australia guaranteed to continue to cooperate on the full and effective implementation of the Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership (2015-2019). However, this summit has ushered the cooperative partnership between them.

Read more: India-ASEAN Summit: India Showcasing The “Act East” Strategy”

Leadership accused of making ‘moral compromises’ in dealing with leaders of Southeast Asia at Sydney summit

Critics argue that Australia is shaking hands with authoritarian leaders while turning a blind eye towards the human right violations in their countries.
“It’s only about money, money, money,” said Hong Lim, a state representative for the rival Labor Party, referring to the government’s stance towards abuses across Southeast Asia. Australia has been reluctant to comment on the human-rights controversies engulfing Southeast Asia, including ethnic cleansing in Rohingya.

ASEAN was formed on 8 August 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand and it has included Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam for political, economic, military, educational, socio and cultural integration and it is more like a community.

Read more: Australia: The “Peace Keeper” in South China Sea?

The biggest obstacle to be the member of the association is that it is not an East Asian state and it needs a long timeline. Though, Australia does not seem to be impatient to be included in ASEAN as it is already engaged in multifaceted areas of cooperation as mentioned above. It depends upon its interests in Asia so far. In case it becomes the member of the association, it will not be a surprise as it has historical relations with those countries. At the same time membership does not demonstrate Australia’s deepest interests in the ASEAN while it (Australia) is inclined to contain China’s growing influence in Asia as well as China’s global influence. Asean’s founding regulations would also need to be altered to allow membership for a country located outside its immediate catchment area.

The recent example is an informal alliance or engagement of Australia-US-Japan-India in order to counter China’s Belt & Road Initiative. It is quite interesting that how much China is promoting its peaceful rise, it is being more describing as threatening the unipolar world order led by the US. Simultaneously, many middle powers including Australia are engaging in all US-led initiative in order to contain China’s growing global influence.


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