1 March 2018
PDF version [1176KB]
Dr Frank Frost
ASEAN since 1967
Australia and ASEAN: recent issues
Economic relations and prospects
Major power relations, ASEAN and the
South China Sea
The major powers and Southeast Asia
The South China Sea
Counter-terrorism and the Philippines
Myanmar and the Rohingya crisis
Political order and Cambodia
Institutional associations and
Advancing relations: the 2018 Special
Australia–ASEAN economic relationship
World Factbook (note: the Australian Government currently uses the name ‘Myanmar’, not ‘Burma’)
All hyperlinks in this paper were correct as at February
The heads of government of the ten members of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will convene in Sydney on 17–18 March 2018 at
the invitation of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the ASEAN-Australia
Special Summit. This will be the sixth ASEAN-Australia heads-of-government
summit since 1977, but the first to be held in Australia. The Summit of heads
of government will be the centrepiece of a series of meetings in the week of 12–18
March which will highlight the breadth and significance of the ASEAN
relationship. This paper provides concise background to and context for the
The paper is in three parts. The paper first outlines ASEAN’s
formation in 1967 during the Cold War by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Singapore and Thailand and the evolution of ASEAN’s distinctive approach to
cooperation, which emphasises consensus in decision-making and respect for national
sovereignty. After attaining a high profile in the 1980s during the conflict
over Cambodia, ASEAN in the
post-Cold War era from 1989 moved to extend its cooperation in three major
ways. It expanded its membership to ten between 1995 and 1999 by including
Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia (Brunei had joined in 1984). ASEAN then
moved to deepen cooperation by initiating proposals for an ASEAN Community in
the political and security, economic and socio-cultural spheres. The ASEAN
Community was inaugurated in 2015, but is an ongoing project requiring much
further development. ASEAN simultaneously has sought to enhance regional
security by sponsoring dialogue forums involving the major powers, particularly
through the ASEAN Regional Forum (from 1994) and the East Asia Summit (2005).
The paper secondly outlines the development of ASEAN-Australia
relations since Australia became the Association’s first dialogue partner in
1974. The paper reviews progress in relations in the past five years and then
identifies and discusses six issues in Australia’s recent relations with ASEAN
and ASEAN members:
significance of Australia’s relations with the ASEAN economies and the
prospects for further development as the economies grow and ASEAN’s cooperation
plans are pursued
continuing challenge of major power competition in Southeast Asia, the disputes
over the South China Sea and ASEAN’s long-term efforts to seek agreement with
China on a ‘code of conduct’ that can moderate tensions and improve
interactions among the claimant parties
problem of Islamist terrorism, which was highlighted in 2017 by the five-month
conflict in the Philippine city of Marawi (which included Australian assistance
to the Armed Forces of the Philippines)
exacerbation of conflict in Rakhine State in Myanmar in August 2017 which saw
the departure of over 650,000 Rohingya people to Bangladesh in a political and
humanitarian crisis which is yet to be resolved
of political order in Southeast Asia which have recently included concerns in
Australia about restrictions on political expression and activity in Cambodia
question of the future of Australia’s institutional relations with ASEAN,
including debate about the long-term potential for and feasibility of
Australian membership of ASEAN.
Thirdly, the paper outlines the program for the Special Summit,
which will include a varied series of events during ‘ASEAN-Australia Week’ from
12 to 18 March, a Business Summit, a Counter-Terrorism Summit of senior
officials, a gathering of experts on cybersecurity, and the Leaders Summit
itself. The Special Summit has been supported strongly by both the Government
and the Opposition and it will direct additional attention to the scale and
significance of the ASEAN-Australia relationship. The paper concludes by
outlining the factors which are likely to be particularly important for the
future evolution of ASEAN-Australia relations.
* Frank Frost (BA Hons and PhD, University of Sydney) was,
until 2012, a senior foreign affairs analyst and research director in the
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security Section of the Australian Parliamentary
Library, Canberra. He was a visiting fellow in the Department of International
Relations, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, College of Asia and the
Pacific, The Australian National University from 2012 to 2015. His publications
include Australia’s War in Vietnam (Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1987), ASEAN
and Regional Cooperation: Recent Developments and Australia’s Interests
(Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2013), and Engaging the Neighbours:
Australia and ASEAN since 1974 (ANU Press, Canberra, 2016). Frank wishes to
thank Graeme Dobell (Australian Strategic Policy Institute), Emeritus Professor
Carlyle Thayer (School of Humanities and Social Sciences, The University of New
South Wales, Canberra, at the Australian Defence Force Academy), and Nigel Brew
and Dr Cameron Hill (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security Section,
Parliamentary Library) for their most helpful comments on drafts of this paper.
The ten ASEAN heads of government will
convene in Sydney at the invitation of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for a
Special Summit on 17–18 March 2018. Australia has supported
ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) since its inception in 1967 and
became the Association’s first dialogue partner in 1974. The meeting in Sydney
will be the sixth summit with Australia at the heads-of-government level since
1977, but the first to be held on Australian soil. This paper will provide
concise background and context for the 2018 Summit.
Since the 1970s, ASEAN has been a central element in
Australia’s relations with Southeast Asia. Australia has taken part in annual
dialogues with the ASEAN foreign ministers since 1980 and has many other consultations
in a wide range of sectors, including economics and defence. Australia also
takes part in ASEAN-sponsored institutions, including the ASEAN Regional Forum
at foreign minister level, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus Eight, and
the East Asia Summit of heads of government, all of which sponsor dialogues
involving the major powers, including the United States, China, Japan and
India. Both the Government and the Opposition affirmed the contribution of
ASEAN to regional security and economic progress at the time of the
Association’s 50th anniversary in August 2017.
Australia’s economic and people-to-people linkages with the
ASEAN region are very extensive. The ASEAN countries, with a total population
of over 637 million and a total Gross Domestic Product of US$2.5 trillion, are
important economic partners for Australia. In 2016, trade between Australia and
ASEAN members was worth A$93 billion, more than Australia’s trade with the US
or Japan. Australia also provides development assistance to a number of ASEAN
members (A$730 million in 2017–18) and contributes assistance to ASEAN itself,
particularly to its Secretariat. People-to-people ties are
substantial: in 2016 there were over 1.3 million visitors from ASEAN countries
to Australia and around 100,000 students from ASEAN members enrolled to study
in Australia—nearly 18 per cent of all international students. The Australian
Census in 2016 recorded about 896,000 respondents who declared an ASEAN member
as their country of origin.
The Special Summit in Sydney will provide an important
opportunity to review the ASEAN-Australia relationship and to consider
directions for future development. This paper will review briefly ASEAN’s
evolution since 1967 and its current emphases in cooperation, discuss recent
issues and developments in Australia’s relations with ASEAN, and outline the
forthcoming Special Summit in Sydney.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations was established
by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand in Bangkok on 8
August 1967. ASEAN was initiated after
a period of serious instability and interstate conflict, which had included
Indonesia’s opposition to the formation of Malaysia (through ‘Confrontation’
from 1963–66), Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia in August 1965 and tension
between Malaysia and the Philippines over the status of Sabah. Its members also
faced the impact of Cold War competition among the major powers, which included
China’s support for communist movements in a number of regional states. ASEAN
represented an effort by its founders to stabilise relations among themselves
and to foster an improved climate for security and economic development.
In a situation of tension and conflict, ASEAN sought to
cautiously establish a basis for improved trust and confidence among its highly
diverse members. In a process known widely as ‘the ASEAN Way’, ASEAN emphasised
informality and loose arrangements, personal contacts rather than
institution-building, and the sovereign equality of members. ASEAN generally
avoided the exercise of overt leadership and sought gradual change based on
consensus, with cooperation proceeding ‘at a pace comfortable to all’. A core
value in ASEAN from the outset was the principle of non-interference in the
internal affairs of members from outside or within the region. ASEAN set out
its core values, including the principle of non-interference, in its Treaty of
Amity and Cooperation, adopted in Bali in February 1976. ASEAN has invited
other states to accept and endorse the Treaty, both within and outside
Southeast Asia; Australia did so in 2005.
ASEAN was a product of the Cold War era and it gained
international prominence in a major regional and international conflict after
Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978. The ASEAN members rejected Vietnam’s
invasion as a violation of the principles of territorial sovereignty and
non-interference in internal affairs, campaigned against Vietnam in the United
Nations and also cooperated with the US and China to oppose Vietnam’s presence.
ASEAN then played a central role in the peace process which led to UN
intervention and the re-creation of an independent Cambodian state and
With the end of the Cold War from 1989, ASEAN sought to
consolidate and develop its cooperation in three major ways. Firstly, ASEAN
accepted the other major Southeast Asian states as members: Vietnam joined in
1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999 (Brunei had joined after
independence in 1984). With ten members ASEAN
was now able to encompass and speak for the Southeast Asian region. The
expansion of membership, however, also widened the diversity of political
character and security outlook among the members and increased the number of
countries which could exercise the right of veto under ASEAN’s mode of
Secondly, ASEAN moved to deepen cooperation among its own
members. In 2003 it adopted the goal of establishing an ASEAN Community, which
was inaugurated in November 2015. ASEAN also adopted a
Charter for the Association in 2007; the Charter set out ASEAN’s values, gave
it a legal identity and refined its institutional character.
The ASEAN Community involves ambitious cooperation programs
in political and security, economic, and socio-economic cooperation and is a
work in progress. The ASEAN Political Security Community (APSC) seeks to
continue and extend the Association’s record in building confidence and
avoiding conflict among its members, and to promote engagement with external
powers in ASEAN-sponsored regional institutions. ASEAN’s vision for the APSC up
to 2025 involves a commitment to:
... an inclusive and responsive community that ensures our
peoples enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as thrive in a
just, democratic, harmonious and gender-sensitive environment in accordance
with the principles of democracy, good governance and the rule of law.
ASEAN has made a significant contribution to regional
security already and since ASEAN’s inception, no major conflict has occurred
among its members, but it faces challenges in pursuing the goals of the APSC in
relation to internal security and regional relations.
Two members, the Philippines and Thailand, have had serious ongoing internal
conflicts involving Islamist movements (the Philippines also faces a communist-led
insurgency) and Myanmar has had ongoing conflicts between the central
government and minority ethnic communities. ASEAN also faces major challenges
in trying to contain and manage disputes and competition in the South China Sea
The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) seeks the creation of a
deeply integrated and cohesive ASEAN that can deliver inclusive economic
growth. Progress has been made
in pursuing the Economic Community; tariff barriers have been reduced substantially,
a number of companies increasingly see ASEAN as an economic bloc and there have
been cases of notable successful ASEAN-based firms with a regional focus, such
as the airline Air Asia, based in Malaysia. However, major obstacles to
economic cooperation continue, including the persistence of non-tariff barriers
and resistance to the liberalisation of services and investment, and ASEAN is a
long way from being an integrated market. The Socio-Cultural
Community aims to broaden and deepen interconnections across the immensely
diverse ASEAN societies and its plans are not likely to be realised rapidly.
Thus, while valuable progress has been made in developing the ASEAN Community,
its goals are likely to take at least several decades to pursue.
ASEAN’s third area of emphasis in the post-Cold War era has
been to expand its engagement with external countries, including the major
powers, in institutional dialogues to contribute to regional confidence-building
and security. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was established in 1994 and was
followed by the East Asia Summit in 2005 (a grouping of heads of government)
and the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus Eight in 2008. The ARF has made
useful progress towards dialogue and confidence-building and the ADMM Plus
Eight has conducted some multilateral military planning exercises with
participation from all members. The East Asia Summit is potentially the most
significant of ASEAN’s dialogues since it gathers together leaders from all
the East Asian and Asia Pacific major powers, and in 2015 it adopted some
measures to refine its role and gain some institutional support. The
contribution of these dialogues has nonetheless been constrained by their
adherence to the ASEAN practice of consensus and by the ongoing lack of trust
and competition among the major powers, who remain reluctant to refer any major
issues of regional security to multilateral bodies.
ASEAN’s style of cooperation is under regular review both
within and outside the Association. It has been argued that ASEAN may need to
consider changes to its organisation and practices if it is to fulfil its goals
in cooperation. One issue relates to the ASEAN Secretariat. The Secretariat is
based in Jakarta and has a staff of approximately 300 and a modest annual
budget of US$20 million (in 2016). It has been argued (including by the Asian
Development Bank Research Institute) that ASEAN will need a much larger and
better funded Secretariat if it is to effectively support its cooperation
A second issue relates to ASEAN’s reliance on consensus in
making decisions. This means that a decision can be blocked if just one member
does not agree. In economic cooperation ASEAN has made provisions for projects
to be able to be approved if a majority of members are in support. It has been
suggested that ASEAN might need to consider adopting a similar approach in
areas of political and security cooperation, but it is not yet evident that
there is widespread support for this concept.
and ASEAN: recent issues and developments
Since Australia became ASEAN’s first dialogue partner in
1974, relations have been advanced under successive Australian governments.
Australia has been a participant since 1980 in annual consultations with ASEAN
foreign ministers in the Post-Ministerial Conferences and there are now regular
interactions between senior ministers in a variety of areas. Australia’s
relations with ASEAN were initially focused on trade issues but in the 1980s
security issues predominated, particularly in relation to the conflict over
Cambodia. Cooperation between Australia and ASEAN played a key role in the
development of the peace process in the late 1980s which led to United Nations
involvement and the restoration of an elected and independent Cambodian government
In the post-Cold War period Australia played an active role
with ASEAN in the inauguration of the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1994. Australia
went on to ultimately accede to ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in 2005
and then became an inaugural member of the East Asia Summit at the end of 2005.
Institutional linkages were expanded and deepened by the negotiation of the
ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement in 2008. In 2012 Australia
also joined with the ‘ASEAN Ten’ and five other countries (China, India, Japan,
Republic of Korea and New Zealand) in negotiations for the Regional
Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which is designed to rationalise and
integrate ASEAN’s free trade agreements with the other states in the Partnership
and thus contribute to freer trade across the 16 participants.
In the past five years, relations have continued to
progress. In 2013 Australia appointed a resident Ambassador to ASEAN, who is
based in Jakarta and coordinates relations and maintains close interactions
with the ASEAN Secretariat. The Government also introduced the New Colombo Plan
in 2013, which assists young Australians to study and gain work experience in
Asia: in the first four years of the program, about 8,000 of the 18,000 participants
have lived and worked in ASEAN countries. ASEAN and Australia held
a Commemorative Summit in Nay Pyi Taw in Myanmar in November 2014 to mark the
fortieth anniversary of multilateral relations, and agreed to become strategic
partners and hold meetings at heads-of-government level every two years.
At the first of these regular meetings, in Vientiane in September 2016, Prime
Minister Turnbull invited the ASEAN heads of government to the Special Summit
in Sydney in March 2018.
Bilateral relations with ASEAN members have also been
advanced. Relations with Malaysia were enhanced by cooperation in the search
for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Australia and Singapore
deepened their already very close interactions by establishing a Comprehensive
Strategic Partnership in 2015. Australia and Vietnam
also agreed to raise their relationship to a Strategic Partnership, which is
expected to be concluded in the near future. Australia and Indonesia
have been pursuing negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership
Agreement, which would be a further avenue for Australia to extend its economic
associations with the ASEAN region.
relations and prospects
The ASEAN members are already significant economic partners
for Australia and their importance is likely to increase substantially in the
future (for a concise summary of economic relations see Appendix A). One
indication of this is that since the inauguration of multilateral relations in
1974, the economic balance between Australia and ASEAN has changed markedly. In
the mid-1970s, the combined GDP of the (then five) ASEAN members was about
two-thirds that of Australia’s. Recent Australian government figures now place
Australia’s GDP at US$1.3 trillion and that of the ten ASEAN members at US$2.5 trillion.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has
highlighted the significance of the ASEAN economies collectively as partners
with whom Australia’s trade is now larger than that with the US or Japan.
If economic growth continues to follow recent trends, the ASEAN market will
grow substantially, and the number of households in ASEAN countries defined as
being of ‘middle income’ level (with an annual income above US$10,000) can be
expected to quadruple by 2030. DFAT has identified a
number of areas in which Australian business can pursue further opportunities
including health services, education, agri-business, information technology and
support for e-commerce (ASEAN, with 260 million Internet users, has the fourth
largest, and fastest growing, online commerce market in the world).
Australian business can participate in regional production chains involving
activities and production networks operating across multiple ASEAN countries.
This creates the potential for further Australian investment in ASEAN; two-way
investment flows in 2016 were estimated to be worth US$224 billion, greater
than the two-way investment flow between Australia and China.
In relation to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), DFAT argued in 2015 that
while the AEC is still a work in progress that will need much further
development, ‘it will mean that Australian companies with operations in ASEAN
will find it easier to invest, move staff within the region, and to manage and
build regional supply chains’.
While the prospects for Australia-ASEAN economic relations
are strong, it is recognised widely that more needs to be done at both the
public and private sector levels to help realise the opportunities available. Australia
and ASEAN are conducting a review of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade
Agreement and have invited private sector input into the process.
Attention is also being given to the desirability of promoting greater
investment flows from Australia to ASEAN economies.
Australia’s (then) Ambassador to ASEAN, Simon Merrifield, commented in November
... business engagement seems thinner than seems right for a
region of such dynamism, such international attention, such proximity and so
many ready pathways to greater engagement, including deep migration and
Promotion of greater knowledge and awareness by Australian
business of opportunities for trade and investment in ASEAN economies will be a
major theme of the Business Summit to be held in the lead-up to the
ASEAN-Australia Special Summit (see below).
relations, ASEAN and the South China Sea
The prospects for the future development of economic
relations between Australia and ASEAN are very substantial but their
realisation will depend crucially on the maintenance of stability and security
in Southeast Asia and in Asia more widely. Two issues in political and security
relations have recently been of particular concern for ASEAN and Australia—the
contest for influence in the South China Sea and the ongoing dangers from
terrorism, highlighted in 2017 by the five-month-long conflict in the
Philippine city of Marawi.
powers and Southeast Asia
The competitive roles of the major powers have always been
at the heart of ASEAN’s political and security focus. The United States under
the Obama administration pursued a rebalance towards East Asia which emphasised
an enhanced military and security presence, economic engagement through the
Trans-Pacific Partnership, and involvement in multilateral institutions with a
special focus on ASEAN. The policy directions of the Trump administration since
January 2017 are continuing to emerge but in the administration’s first year
there has been some uncertainty about what its approach will be. Some policy
areas have been reaffirmed, with the US renewing commitments to its alliances
and expressing the US’s ongoing concern at the dangers posed by North Korea’s
missile and nuclear programs.
With Southeast Asia, US involvement has been emphasised in
visits by the Vice President and the President, and by the Secretaries for
State and Defense. The National Security Strategy issued by President Trump in
December 2017 criticised China’s ‘efforts to build and militarize outposts in
the South China Sea’ and also stated that ASEAN and APEC (Asia Pacific Economic
Cooperation) ‘... remain centrepieces of the Indo-Pacific’s regional architecture
and platforms for promoting an order based on freedom’.
However, the US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement just
after President Trump’s inauguration and while President Trump visited
Southeast Asia for bilateral and multilateral meetings in November 2017, he did
not participate fully in the meeting of the East Asia Summit. There remains
uncertainty in Southeast Asia about the direction of US policy in relation to
the region and ASEAN.
China has continued its close interest in the ASEAN region,
with a substantial part of that attention directed towards the South China Sea
(see below). In 2017, China, under President Xi Jinping, emphasised its support
for globalisation and multilateral cooperation and institutions. China is also giving
high priority to its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a highly ambitious program
to extend communication, trade and commerce across Central and East Asia. The
BRI was unveiled formally in May 2017 and promises a massive process of
infrastructure investment, although there have been doubts about the long-term
viability and likely sustainability of some projects.
China is continuing to expand its capacities for power projection in relation
to East and Southeast Asia and in 2017, unveiled the world’s largest coastguard
vessel, the largest amphibious aircraft and a new dredging vessel, claimed to
be the largest in Asia, all of which could boost China’s presence and
capabilities in the South China Sea.
Japan has had a major role as an economic partner for the
ASEAN region since the Association’s inception. Japan has recently moved to
expand its interest in contributing to the security of the ASEAN
region, including in
the maritime domain. Japan’s coastguard has pursued cooperation with its
Philippine counterpart and has supplied coastguard vessels and surveillance
aircraft to that country and to Vietnam. Japanese Self Defense Force vessels have
made regional visits. In the wake of the US withdrawal from the TPP, Japan,
along with Australia, has led efforts to advance the negotiations with the
remaining 11 participants, four of which are ASEAN members. India has also
heightened its multilateral relationship with ASEAN, including by inviting the
ASEAN heads of government to attend its National Day celebrations on 25 January
The principal security issue in Southeast Asia for ASEAN and
Australia continues to be the South China Sea. Six parties have formal claims
to areas in the Sea: China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and
Vietnam. Contest over the area increased in the 1990s after China passed the
‘Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone of the People’s Republic of
China’ in 1992, which reasserted its claims to wide areas of the Sea within
what has become known widely as its ‘nine dash line’. After clashes between
China and Vietnam over disputed areas of the Sea, ASEAN issued a ‘Declaration
on the South China Sea’ in the same year, which called for restraint and urged
all parties to respect ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and to develop a
‘code of international conduct’ for the Sea.
After 1995, ASEAN tried to develop its proposal for a formal
code of conduct but did not secure China’s agreement.
In 2002, ASEAN and China did eventually endorse the Declaration on Conduct of
Parties in the South China Sea. The Declaration advocated the building of trust
and confidence among and between the signatories and affirmed that a code of
conduct would promote peace and stability and should be pursued through a
process of consensus. The Declaration did not deal with sovereignty issues and
did not establish any sanctions for breach of its terms.
ASEAN subsequently had great difficulty in moving beyond the non-binding
Declaration, particularly because China continued to wish to deal with any
issues of sovereignty on a bilateral basis. A second key issue was that the
differing political and strategic priorities among the ASEAN members in
relation to the South China Sea became increasingly evident. While the claimant
states continued to be concerned about the issue, some of the non-claimant
states (including Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar) were less involved with maritime
issues and did not wish to jeopardise close economic and political links with
China by taking positions inimical to China’s interests.
Two developments in 2013 have been particularly significant
in the ongoing contest over the South China Sea. In January 2013, the
Philippines, under President Benigno Aquino, initiated a legal submission to
clarify its entitlements in relation to the United Nations Convention on the
Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The case was heard by an Arbitral Tribunal (with
administrative support provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, based in
The Hague) and has been an important issue in the debate about the contending
claims in the area (see below). The second major development in 2013 was that
from September, China began to transform seven features in the Spratly Islands
into artificial islands and developed civilian and military infrastructure
including harbours, radar and surveillance systems, buildings and airfields.
China was not the first or the only claimant to create artificial land features
and develop facilities in the area: the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and
Taiwan have also done so. However, China’s program was by far the most
extensive; by 2017 it was estimated to have involved over 1,200 hectares of
The Philippines and Vietnam criticised China’s actions and
ASEAN also expressed concern. At the 26th ASEAN Summit in April 2015, the
Chairman’s Statement, without referring to China specifically, said:
... we share the serious concerns expressed by some Leaders on
the land reclamation being undertaken in the South China Sea, which has eroded
trust and confidence and may undermine peace, security and stability in the
South China Sea.
China’s programs continued and have clearly enhanced its
position in the South China Sea.
The Arbitral Tribunal (established under Article VII of
UNCLOS) issued its decision in July 2016 and ruled in favour of fourteen of the
fifteen claims by the Philippine Government. The ruling included the finding
that China’s ‘nine dash line’ had no standing under the UN’s Law of the Sea or
any other basis. The judges also ruled that none of the features in the South
China Sea claimed by China and the Philippines were in fact ‘islands’, and that
they were therefore not entitled to a 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),
but rather, at most, a 12 nautical mile territorial zone. As a consequence,
China’s actions in areas deemed to be within the Philippines’ EEZ, such as
artificial island construction and interference with the Philippines’ fishing
and exploration activities, constituted a violation of the sovereign rights of
The legal ruling has continued to be debated and contested.
China had stated in advance that it would not accept the validity of the ruling
and it quickly denounced it as ‘null and void’.
Among the members of ASEAN, some states gave support to the ruling, including
Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar. However, ASEAN as a whole did not
explicitly support the Arbitral Tribunal’s decision.
A key factor affecting ASEAN’s responses was that President Rodrigo Duterte of
the Philippines, who replaced Aquino after the May 2016 elections, set aside
his predecessor’s commitment towards the Arbitral Tribunal’s decision. In the
months after the ruling, Duterte called for restraint over the issue and
supported direct dialogue between the Philippines and China. The momentum which
the Philippines had gained through the decision had therefore dissipated.
In 2017, China, having rebuffed the Tribunal decision,
pursued a conciliatory policy towards ASEAN and indicated its willingness to
resume discussions on a code of conduct for the South China Sea. ASEAN and
China announced some progress in their discussions with the adoption in Manila
on 6 August 2017 of a Framework for the Development of a Code of Conduct; the
Framework was not released formally but the text was circulated widely in the
media and academic circles. In a joint statement, the ASEAN foreign ministers
said that they were ‘encouraged’ by the adoption of the Framework which would
‘facilitate the work for the conclusion of an effective COC [code of conduct]
on a mutually-agreed timeline’.
The Framework is understood to set out a series of
principles which should underpin the development of a code, including an aim
for a ‘rules-based framework’ that can promote mutual trust, cooperation and
confidence, prevent incidents, and manage incidents should they occur.
The Framework’s principles would also seek to create a
favourable environment for the peaceful resolution of disputes and ensure
maritime security and safety and freedom of navigation and over-flight. The
Framework does not use the term ‘legally-binding’ and it is not clear if such a
provision would be agreed to by China. The Framework also does not mention
possible enforcement arrangements and arbitration measures should one party
accuse another of violating the code. The Framework is
considered to be a step forward in discussions about the South China Sea, but
it remains to be seen what kind of proposed code may emerge and whether such a
code would represent a significant advance on the 2002 Declaration on Conduct.
In relation to the South China Sea, the Australian
Government has consistently noted that Australia is not a claimant state and
does not take sides in relation to claims. Australia has emphasised the
desirability of dialogue and negotiation; opposes artificial modifications or
militarisation of islands or features in the Sea; supports freedom of
navigation and over-flight; and supports a legally-binding code of conduct.
Australia has reiterated its approach at recent meetings of ASEAN and the East
Asia Summit. The Australian Government’s position was reaffirmed in its 2017
Foreign Policy White Paper (released in November 2017). The white paper
We support the resolution of differences through negotiation
based on international law. All claimants should clarify the full nature and
extent of their claims according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of
the Sea (UNCLOS).
The Government reaffirmed its position that the ‘... ruling on
the Philippines South China Sea Arbitration is final and binding on both
In affirming support for the Arbitral Tribunal’s decision,
Australia has taken a more assertive position than ASEAN has. A difference in
emphasis was evident at the time of ASEAN’s Ministerial Meeting in August 2017.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers did not refer to the Arbitral Tribunal in their
joint statement. During the meetings, Australia, the US and Japan issued a
joint statement in which they urged ASEAN and China to agree to a
legally-binding code of conduct for the area and expressed serious concern over
‘coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase
The outlook for the contest over the South China Sea remains
highly uncertain. It is not yet clear what kind of code of conduct may emerge
from ASEAN’s negotiation with China and whether it might be legally-binding (an
outcome that many observers consider to be unlikely). As noted, Australia hopes
that the code can be legally-binding on all parties and has also asserted its
position in joint statements with its partners the US and Japan. In 2017 there
was also renewed interest in the concept of a four-way or ‘quadrilateral’
dialogue forum between Australia, Japan, the US and India which would have
maritime security as one of its areas of focus.
The concept of quadrilateral cooperation between Australia and three of the
major powers was considered in 2007 but was discontinued under the Rudd
Government. It has been suggested that a revival of the concept of
quadrilateral cooperation could be unsettling for ASEAN members, who might have
some concerns that their regional dialogues may receive less attention, but the
concept remains at an early stage of consideration.
In January 2018, Prime Minister Turnbull expressed some
optimism about the prospects for dialogue on the South China Sea issue. He said
during a visit to Japan that, ‘I’m more optimistic about those issues being
resolved than I have been for a couple of years’, that ‘some real progress’ was
made during the recent East Asia Summit and that there was ‘some more positive
movement’ on a code of conduct being finalised for the Sea.
The contest for influence in the South China Sea nonetheless remains a major
security and political issue for both ASEAN and Australia.
and the Philippines
An additional security challenge in Southeast Asia was
highlighted in 2017 by the occupation of the city of Marawi on the island of
Mindanao in the Philippines by militants who claimed allegiance to Islamic
State. The conflict in Marawi illustrated the ongoing problems arising from the
Muslim separatist movements in the Southern Philippines and the potential for
such groups to attract support and assistance from other countries in ASEAN and
internationally, as the decline of the IS position in the Middle East has highlighted
the potential for foreign Islamist fighters to return to their home countries.
Contacts between militants in Mindanao and IS in the Middle
East were evident from 2014. In April 2016, the Maute
Group, a radical Islamist group named after their leader, swore allegiance to
IS. The Maute Group staged bombings and occupied the town of Butig on Mindanao
for several days in November 2016 and there were calls for militants in
Indonesia to join the struggle in Mindanao. A major battle developed
from 23 May 2017 when the Maute Group and supporters occupied Marawi, a city of
200,000 people. The conflict lasted for five months and involved intense urban
warfare which stretched the resources of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The militants were able to obtain light weapons readily and also used
improvised explosive devices, as well as commercial drones for surveillance.
The conflict did not conclude until late October, with the Government declaring
victory on 17 October. Marawi was devastated by the fighting, both sides
sustained heavy casualties and a number of militants were thought to have
escaped after the battle ended. Reconstruction costs
have been estimated to be at least A$2.4 billion.
The fighting in Marawi was of major concern in the ASEAN
region and particularly in the neighbouring states of Indonesia, Malaysia and
Singapore, all of which have had security challenges from Islamist militants in
their own societies and share concerns about the potential for fighters returning
from the Middle East. ASEAN as a group does
not have a capacity to assist members through defence force deployments, but it
provided some humanitarian assistance through the ASEAN Coordination Centre for
Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre).
Singapore also contributed bilateral aid, including access to urban warfare
training facilities, surveillance drones and humanitarian assistance.
The US and Australia both provided security and humanitarian
assistance to assist the Philippine Government. The Marawi conflict saw a
renewal of defence cooperation between the US and the Philippines and US P3
surveillance aircraft and drones provided substantial support.
Australia provided assistance, particularly through the deployment of two P3
surveillance aircraft. Australia also provided military training in urban
warfare to the Philippine Armed Forces.
Australia, in addition, moved to step up cooperation with
ASEAN members in countering terrorists’ access to finances. On 22 November 2017,
Michael Keenan, the Minister for Justice and Minister assisting the Prime
Minister for Counter Terrorism, announced the establishment of a new South East
Asia Counter Terrorism Finance Working Group to disrupt terrorist groups, their
sources of funding, the movement and use of funds and their economic
sustainment in the region; the Working Group would be jointly led by
Australia’s financial intelligence agency and regulator, AUSTRAC, and the
Philippine Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
The Marawi conflict was the most significant terrorist
incident in Southeast Asia since the Bali bombing in 2002. The issue of
counter-terrorism is clearly a major concern among ASEAN members and to
Australia. Prime Minister Turnbull said in his ‘Statement on National Security’
on 13 June 2017:
... I am keenly alert to the risk that the next mass casualty
attack on Australian victims could well be in Southeast Asia, where ISIL
propaganda has galvanised existing networks of extremists and attracted new
recruits. We have to take responsibility for our own security and prosperity,
but we must also recognise we are stronger when we are sharing the burden of
collective leadership with trusted partners and friends. We are helping to
build the region’s capacity to confront these cross-border challenges, by
building operational partnerships, by boosting regional capacity and by
increasing the flow of information. At the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit next
year, all this will be a top priority.
the Rohingya crisis
An additional political, security and humanitarian crisis
has been of major concern in the ASEAN region. In the second half of 2017
serious conflict in northern Rakhine State in western Myanmar resulted in the
departure to Bangladesh of over 650,000 Rohingya people.
Approximately one million Rohingya people (a majority of
them Muslim and a minority Hindu) have lived in Rakhine State for a number of
generations, but their presence has not been widely accepted in Myanmar.
Substantial numbers of Rohingya people left Myanmar for Bangladesh on several
occasions after 1978 because of alleged mistreatment by the Myanmar authorities
and security forces; by 2016 there were over 200,000 living in camps in
Bangladesh. In 2017, a further phase of serious conflict developed. On 25 August
the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) initiated a series of attacks in
thirty locations in Rakhine State. The attacks were followed by a severe
response from the Myanmar security forces, which included the assault and
killing of many Rohingya and the destruction of houses and other property;
attacks were also conducted by pro-government militia groups. By the end of
2017, over 650,000 Rohingya people had moved to Bangladesh where they were
accommodated in camps. In January 2018,
negotiations were underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar to arrange the
orderly repatriation of Rohingya from the camps, but uncertainty has continued
about whether this could be pursued successfully and whether returnees could
resume life in Myanmar with security and economic sustainability.
The crisis in Rakhine State came at a time when Myanmar had
been in political transition after the elections in 2015 in which the National
League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, had emerged as the winner. Under
the 2008 constitution the military retain substantial authority, including in
internal security. The situation in Myanmar was further complicated by
polarisation over the presence of the Rohingya in which the Government’s
crackdown in Northern Rakhine appeared to have strong support within Myanmar,
especially among the Buddhist majority.
The conflict in Rakhine and the role of the security forces attracted
some significant criticism, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia. Prime
Minister Razak publicly criticised the Myanmar authorities and in Jakarta there
were attacks on the Myanmar embassy. Individual ASEAN members sought to provide
some humanitarian assistance, including Indonesia and ASEAN jointly. Indonesia
had delivered basic needs assistance and constructed schools in Rakhine in 2016
and started a hospital construction project in November 2017. The ASEAN
Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA
Centre) delivered humanitarian assistance to Rakhine in October 2017.
ASEAN as a whole called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, as reflected
in the ‘ASEAN Chairman’s Statement on the Humanitarian Situation in Rakhine
State’ issued on 24 September 2017.
The Australian Government condemned the violence in Rakhine
and provided humanitarian aid. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop,
stated on 23 October 2017 that ‘the Australian Government condemns the ongoing
violence in Rakhine State. We continue to call for the protection of civilians
and unfettered access for humanitarian workers’.
Australia contributed A$30 million in assistance, which included support for
the World Food Program, Save the Children, Oxfam and Care. In providing
assistance, the Australian Government was able to cooperate with Indonesia and
on 1 October 2017 Ms Bishop said that ‘... some of our specialists are embedded
with the Indonesian humanitarian team in Bangladesh now’.
The Government faced calls from within the Australian community for more
stringent action to protest against the developments in Rakhine State,
including cancelling cooperation with the Myanmar military.
The United Kingdom suspended training assistance to the Myanmar military in
September 2017 and the United States imposed a range of restrictions on
interactions with the Myanmar military in October.
The Australian Government did not pursue this approach, considering that
continued engagement with Myanmar was a preferable path.
At the time of writing (early February 2018) the outlook for
the Rakhine crisis remained highly uncertain. It was not clear if a process of
return for Rohingya people in Bangladesh would be feasible or acceptable to
them. There were also concerns that an ongoing conflict could see attempted
involvement by external Islamist radical groups.
It may be noted that given ASEAN’s emphasis on the
non-interference principle and on the value of maintaining consensus, while the
issues discussed above could arise in bilateral discussions, they are not
likely to be considered formally in the multilateral Special Summit in Sydney.
order and Cambodia
ASEAN’s members are highly diverse in political character
and processes. The diversity and
variety of political systems in ASEAN has been a consistent feature of the
ASEAN region during Australia’s 44 years of multilateral relations and issues
of domestic political order can be a focus for discussion in Australia. The
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, noted in a speech in Singapore in
Liberal democratic institutions such as rule-of-law, rather
than rule by executive privilege, civilian control of the military, independent
and competent courts, protection of property and intellectual property rights
from state appropriation or theft, and limitations on the role of the state in
commercial affairs remain the prerequisites for stable and prosperous
societies, as they are for the creation of a vibrant and innovative private
sector ... I note ASEAN upholds democracy as one of its core values in the
Charter and I urge ASEAN to champion democratic norms and liberal political
institutions throughout the Indo-Pacific.
The Minister’s comments came during a period in which some
observers have expressed concern that political trends in some ASEAN members
have been moving in a direction away from democratic principles and practices
and further towards authoritarianism. Recent discussion and concern has focused
on examples, including the reassertion of a dominant role by the military in
Thailand; judicial convictions of peaceful activists in Vietnam; the autocratic
approach of President Duterte in the Philippines (including the extrajudicial
killings of alleged narcotics offenders); and an alleged decline in democratic
norms of tolerance in Indonesia (such as the imprisonment for blasphemy of the
former Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known widely as ‘Ahok’).
In this context, recent political developments in Cambodia have attracted some
attention in Australia.
Australia had a significant role in the peace process in
Cambodia in the late 1980s and early 1990s which led to a United Nations
transitional administration, UN-organised elections in 1993, and the emergence
of a new elected coalition government. Cambodian politics after 1993 continued
to be heavily influenced by the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which assumed a
predominant position in July 1997 after a period of political conflict, and which,
after the elections in 1998, consolidated its political dominance. The CPP did
face ongoing competition from other parties in the 2013 elections: the
opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) achieved a strong result and
gained 22 additional parliamentary seats (reducing the CPP’s majority from 90
to 68 in the
123-seat National Assembly). In the lead-up to the
next national elections (due in July 2018), the CPP Government, led by Prime
Minister Hun Sen, moved to impose restrictions on opposition activities.
These included the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha on treason charges in
September 2017; the forced closure of a major English-language daily newspaper
along with a number of radio outlets; the expulsion of a US-funded
pro-democracy group; and the imposition of new restrictions on political
In November 2017, the Supreme Court of Cambodia dissolved
the main opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, and also
imposed on 118 members of the CNRP a five-year ban on political activity. The
CNRP, as noted above, had performed strongly in the 2013 national elections and
increased its vote in commune elections in June 2017, which were won by the
CPP. The Supreme Court’s
actions were seen as paving the way for the CPP to contest the upcoming 2018
national elections with the opposition greatly weakened.
On 17 November 2017, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, stated:
Australia is deeply concerned by the dissolution of
Cambodia’s main opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP),
and the banning of CNRP parliamentarians and officials from engaging in
politics for five
development has serious implications for democracy in Cambodia. It is the
culmination of a series of troubling actions, including reduced access to free
media, restrictions on civil society and intimidation of the opposition,
specifically the detention of CNRP leader Kem Sokha ... As a friend of Cambodia,
Australia urges the Cambodian Government to allow all its citizens to exercise
their democratic rights, particularly ahead of the 2018 national election.
It may be noted that as with the issue of Myanmar and the
Rohingya discussed above, while developments in Cambodian politics may arise in
bilateral discussions, they are not likely to be considered formally in the
multilateral Special Summit.
associations and relations
Another issue in the context of Australia’s relations with
ASEAN is the possible future of institutional relationships. The wide-ranging
linkages between Australia and the ASEAN countries, the importance of economic
relations and prospects for further development and the relevance of
cooperation on a range of security issues have fostered some debate in
Australia on the relationship overall and how it could be extended. Tony Milner
and Ron Huisken (both from the Australian National University) have argued in a
recent paper that the substantive importance of ASEAN for Australia has not
been matched by public awareness and that political leaders and the Government
should heighten the focus on ASEAN as a high priority in Australian foreign
There have also been suggestions that in the longer term
Australia should aim to join ASEAN, assuming that there were to be a consensus
within the Association to pursue such a step. Former Prime Minister Paul
Keating stated in November 2012 that ASEAN:
... represents the security architecture of south-east Asia,
the one with which we can have real dialogue and add substance. In the longer
run we should be a member of it—formulating the trade, commercial and political
interests we already share.
When DFAT commented on the issue in 2012, it saw significant
obstacles: ASEAN would not wish to accept Australia as a member; membership, if
achieved, would require Australia to refrain from criticism of ASEAN countries
and from putting forward alternatives to ASEAN positions; and Australia would
need to accept other ASEAN countries (notably the ASEAN Chair) representing
Australia in discussions with the major powers.
The case for Australian long-term membership of ASEAN has continued to be
advanced. Graeme Dobell (Australian Strategic Policy Institute) argued in July
2017 that looking to the future:
Instead of constant pledges of engagement and partnership,
Australia’s future in Southeast Asia lies in joining ASEAN ... Australia should
reach for membership of the Community in 2024, the 50th anniversary of
Australia becoming the first ASEAN dialogue partner.
relations: the 2018 Special Summit
In the past 50 years ASEAN has made a major contribution
towards maintaining peace and enhancing stability among its own members,
arguably ASEAN’s greatest single achievement. It is pursuing ambitious projects
to deepen inter-relationships within the ASEAN Community. It has sponsored a
number of wider cooperative dialogues which have drawn in many external states,
including all the major powers with interests in Southeast and East Asia. While
these institutions have found it difficult to extend their activities beyond
the stage of dialogue and confidence-building, East Asia is likely to have had
far fewer opportunities for dialogue without ASEAN’s role and efforts.
In the lead-up to the Special Summit, both the Australian
Government and the Opposition have emphasised the importance of ASEAN to
Australia. Prime Minister Turnbull, in his speech to the Shangri-La dialogue in
Singapore on 2 June 2017, said:
marking ASEAN’s half-century this year, we should acknowledge its success.
ASEAN embodies opportunity in our region. It is the region’s strategic convenor
... As our strategic space becomes more crowded, the challenge for ASEAN is to
show that the impressive statecraft of the past can be sustained in a more
complex future, to remain nimble enough in a more testing time. Australia’s
interests in ensuring that this is the case are very clear. We support a
strong, united ASEAN that continues to convene and strengthen organisations such as the East Asia Summit, the
region’s only leaders-led forum that can help manage the region’s strategic
risks. And we support an ASEAN that remains committed to liberal economic
values. So I look forward to welcoming to Sydney in March 2018 all ten ASEAN
leaders at the first ASEAN-Australia Special Summit. This will be an unprecedented
opportunity to reinforce Australia’s strategic partnership with ASEAN.
In a speech to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in
Singapore on 24 January 2018, Senator Penny Wong (Leader of the Opposition in
the Senate and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs), said of ASEAN:
... the real question is not just ‘what has ASEAN achieved’ but
‘where would we be without it’? ... Australia has been blessed with an unexpected
but valuable political buffer: ASEAN. With its diversity and heterogeneity,
ASEAN has enhanced Australian security. As Kishore Mahbubani and Jeffrey Sng
have pointed out, if the unthinkable were to happen, and ASEAN were to
dissolve, one of the biggest losers would be Australia. If ASEAN were to do
well, Australians would be amongst its biggest beneficiaries ... ASEAN already
supports the two key institutions for addressing regional security issues—the
ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit. These, I think, are of critical
importance, because they bring all the key protagonists into a common
conversation about and in pursuit of regional stability and security.
Senator Wong also said that, ‘Labor welcomes the
ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, to be convened in Sydney in mid-March this
year. A Shorten Labor Government will certainly build on the outcomes of this
The March 2018 Special Summit will be a further step in a
process of leadership dialogue that began in 1977 with the visit of Prime
Minister Malcolm Fraser to Kuala Lumpur, just 18 months after the first ASEAN
heads-of-government summit in Bali. The next leaders summit
did not take place until 2004 (with New Zealand), but since then such meetings
have become more frequent, with further summits held in 2010 and 2014 (for the
fortieth anniversary of multilateral relations). At the 2014 summit it was
agreed that the ASEAN and Australian heads of government would now meet on a
regular basis and in August 2015 it was announced that leaders would convene
every two years: the first of these regular meetings was in Vientiane in September
2016 and the second will be in Sydney in March 2018.
As previous sections have suggested, the Special Summit is
occurring at a time when there are major opportunities for further economic
interactions between Australia and ASEAN, but when there are also significant
security challenges facing Southeast Asia and Australia. Prime Minister
Turnbull noted in his speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue:
Now in this brave new world we cannot rely on great powers to
safeguard our interests. We have to take responsibility for our own security
and prosperity while recognising we are stronger when sharing the burden of
collective leadership with trusted partners and friends.
The 2018 Summit will involve a number of meetings and events
which should heighten the profile of ASEAN-Australia relations for both sides.
The week leading up to the Summit has been designated
‘ASEAN-Australia Week’ and will provide a program of academic, educational,
sporting and cultural events presented by a range of non-governmental organisations.
The ASEAN-Australia Business Summit will help to provide
Australian and ASEAN businesses with the connections needed to strengthen
economic partnerships and will include three major components. A CEO Forum will
discuss prospects for further integration in areas including agri-business
supply chains, infrastructure, digital transformation, energy futures, tourism
destination development and aviation. Policy recommendations will be developed for
consideration by the leaders at the Special Summit, to bolster trade and
economic relations. An SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) conference on 16
March will bring together regional specialists, business leaders and successful
exporters to share knowledge and insights with Australian SMEs who are, or are
considering, exporting to ASEAN. There will also be a Women in Business
breakfast on 16 March.
A Counter-Terrorism Conference on 16–17 March will convene
senior officials from Australia and ASEAN members:
... with a view to enhancing regional connectivity and
cooperation to combat terrorism and violent extremism. Officials will discuss
how they can work together more effectively to combat this rapidly evolving
threat, including through policy and law enforcement responses and by
intensifying information sharing.
AUSTRAC will host a related meeting, the ASEAN-Australia
Codeathon. The Codeathon will be held over 32 hours and will gather together
financial intelligence units, banks, developers and other partners to discuss
and develop digital solutions to help combat terrorist financing and enhance
The centrepiece heads-of-government Summit will convene on
17 and 18 March and will include a formal Summit and a Leaders Retreat. The
heads-of-government Summit, it may be suggested, could seek to advance
relations in several major ways. The leaders could discuss and evaluate recent
regional security challenges and avenues towards further joint cooperation,
including continuing to work towards enhancing the role of the East Asia
Summit. The leaders could review economic cooperation and trade and commerce
relationships. This could include assessment of how trade and economic
negotiations and agreements can best contribute to economic relations. The
leaders summit could also assess the wide range of cooperation which is ongoing
in specific sectors and consider how best Australia can contribute to ASEAN’s
pursuit of its goals for the ASEAN Community.
For the future, Australia’s relations with ASEAN are likely
to be affected by five major factors. The first factor will
be ASEAN’s progress towards its declared goals of economic integration and
security cooperation. ASEAN is economically and politically very diverse, has a
strong emphasis on consensus-based decision-making and has relatively limited
institutional resources to support its programs. If ASEAN can continue to
progress towards greater integration while maintaining cohesion among its
members, the basis for its relationship with Australia will deepen and further
increase in value for both sides.
The second factor will be the climate and evolution of
interactions among the major powers. In the past five years, tensions among the
major powers have increased and there is little basis for strategic trust in
some key major power relationships, including between the United States and
China. If this state of tension continues or worsens, it could increase
pressures on ASEAN and reduce its capacity to continue to be a viable
diplomatic actor in East Asia.
A third factor is whether wider multilateral dialogues can
come to play a more active role in contributing to security in Southeast and
East Asia. ASEAN has invested major efforts in developing dialogues and the
East Asia Summit is the only group which brings together all the major powers
with interests in the region. If the East Asia Summit can build on recent moves
to enhance its cooperation and establish a greater institutional identity, this
will be of value to ASEAN and Australia, which has been a supportive member of
the EAS from the outset.
The fourth factor will be the character and evolution of
Australia's linkages with ASEAN as an institution. Australia is an active
dialogue partner of ASEAN and it has close relationships with the ASEAN
Secretariat, bolstered by its multilateral assistance program. There may be
opportunities to extend institutional relations, particularly since it is
widely considered that ASEAN will need to increase the level of institutional
capacities it has available to support its ambitious integration plans.
The fifth factor which will affect the prospects for
Australia’s ASEAN relations is the continuation of progress in consolidating
bilateral relations with ASEAN members. This is particularly important in the
case of Indonesia where the strength of relations at official levels has not
necessarily been matched by communication and confidence among both countries’
communities. Strong bilateral relations will clearly be a bedrock for
Australia’s multilateral engagement with ASEAN.
Australia has gained great benefits from ASEAN’s
contribution to security and stability in Southeast Asia since 1967. Australia
has a major stake in ASEAN’s capacities to achieve its declared goals and the
March 2018 Special Summit provides a valuable opportunity to renew and enhance
the ASEAN-Australia relationship.
Source: Department of
Foreign Affairs and Trade
further details, see the official website for the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit 2018.
paper draws in part from two previous works by the author: Frank Frost, ASEAN
and regional cooperation: recent developments and Australia’s interests,
Research paper, 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 8 November 2013; and Frank
the neighbours: Australia and ASEAN since 1974, Australian National
University Press, Canberra, 2016.
Bishop (Minister for Foreign Affairs), 50th
anniversary of ASEAN, Bangkok, Thailand, speech, 3 August 2017; Penny
Wong (Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs), ‘Australia
and ASEAN: the next 50 years’, The Interpreter, blog, Lowy Institute
for International Policy, 8 August 2017.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), ‘ASEAN
Australia Development Cooperation Program Phase II’, Australian Aid, 2015.
of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), ‘ASEAN-Australia
following paragraphs draw from Frost, ASEAN and regional cooperation,
op. cit., pp. 2–19.
is interested in becoming ASEAN’s eleventh member and has support from some
members including Indonesia, but a consensus for approval by all members has
not yet emerged.
Siew Mun, ‘Is
ASEAN due for a makeover?’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, 39(2),
2017, pp. 239–244, p. 241.
concise background on the ASEAN Community see Frost, ASEAN and regional
cooperation, op. cit., pp. 9–16.
of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), ASEAN
community vision 2025.
See Kishore Mahbubani and Jeffrey Sng, The ASEAN miracle: a catalyst for
peace, Ridge Books, Singapore, 2017, pp. 48–75 and 179–184; and
Christopher B. Roberts, ASEAN regionalism: cooperation, values and
institutionalization, Routledge, London, 2012, pp. 174–187.
Basu Das, Mind
the gap: explaining implementation shortfalls in the ASEAN Economic Community,
Economics working paper no. 2017-7, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, September
Maramis, ‘Integrative chapter for volume four: ASEAN’s socio-cultural community’,
in Aileen Baviera and Larry Maramis, eds, Building ASEAN community: political-security
and socio-cultural reflections, Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and
East Asia, 2017, pp. 279–293.
Seng Tan, ‘A tale of two institutions: the ARF, ADMM-Plus and security
regionalism in the Asia Pacific’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, 39(2),
2017, pp. 259–264; Nick Bisley, ‘The East Asia Summit and ASEAN: potential and
problems’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, 39(2), 2017, pp. 265–272.
to consider refinancing options for the ASEAN secretariat’, The
Strategist, blog, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 10 November
Siew Mun, op. cit.; Ralf Emmers, ‘ASEAN
minus X: should this formula be extended?’, RSIS Commentary, S.
Rajaratnam School of International Studies, no. 199, 24 October 2017.
a detailed history see Frost, Engaging the neighbours, op. cit.
Bishop, 50th anniversary of ASEAN, op. cit.
Engaging the neighbours, op. cit., pp. 178–180; see also ASEAN, Plan
of action to implement the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership (2015–2019).
needs to happen before the 2018 ASEAN-Australia leaders summit’, The
Interpreter, blog, Lowy Institute for International Policy, 9 September
Engaging the neighbours, op. cit., p. 176.
the new Vietnam-Australia defense dialogue matters’, The Diplomat, 8
raised on deadline for Indonesia pact’, The Canberra Times, 12
now: insights for Australian business—a report on Australia’s trade and
investment relationship with ASEAN, Commonwealth of Australia,
Canberra, November 2017, p. 8; see also Tony Milner and Ron Huisken, Smaller
but enmeshed: why Australia needs to make ASEAN an even stronger priority,
Centre of Gravity Series, Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, Australian
National University, Canberra, June 2017, p. 5.
ASEAN now: insights for Australian business, op. cit., p. 10.
and Austrade, Why
ASEAN and why now? Insights for Australian business, Commonwealth of
Australia, Canberra, 2015, p. 14.
of the FTA Joint Committee: general review of AANZFTA—stage one: review of
implementation 2010–2017, October 2017.
Asian opportunities at risk’, The Australian, 20 November
Merrifield (Australian Ambassador to ASEAN), ASEAN, Australia
and the AEC, remarks by Simon Merrifield, Australian Ambassador to
ASEAN, Indonesia-Australia Business Conference, Royal Ambarukmo Hotel,
Yogyakarta, 17 November 2015.
of the United States, National
security strategy of the United States of America, December 2017, p.
faces contested Asia’, in Ron Huisken, ed., CSCAP Regional Security
Outlook 2018, Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific, Canberra,
2018, pp. 29–31; Sheldon Simon, ‘Abandoning
leadership’, Comparative Connections, 19(3), January 2018, pp. 41–52.
Sutter and Chin-Hao Huang, ‘Xi
Jinping, Li Keqiang ease regional tensions, consolidate gains’, Comparative
Connections, 19(3), January 2018, pp. 53–61, p. 57; Peter Cai, Understanding
China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Lowy Institute for
International Policy, 22 March 2017.
Sutter and Chin-Hao Huang, op. cit., pp. 53–61; ‘Philippines
to keep wary eye on new Chinese dredger’, Reuters, 6 November 2017.
hard and soft power in ASEAN’, RSIS Commentary, S. Rajaratnam School
of International Studies, no. 242, 27 December 2017.
Declaration of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit to mark the 25th anniversary
of ASEAN-India dialogue relations, 25 January 2018.
long march to a code of conduct in the South China Sea’, Maritime Issues,
18 July 2017. See also Leszek Buszynski and Christopher B Roberts, eds, The
South China Sea maritime dispute: political, legal and regional perspectives,
Routledge, Abingdon, 2015.
‘ASEAN’s long march’, op. cit.
the South China Sea dispute be resolved or better managed?’, paper
presented at Strategizing Change in Asia: the 27th
Asia-Pacific Roundtable, Kuala Lumpur, 3–5 June 2013, pp. 3–4.
terraforming in the Spratlys: a game changer in the South China Sea?’, ISEAS
Perspective, no. 29, 23 June 2015, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies;
Lindsay Murdoch, ‘China
turns reef into runways’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 16
statement of the 26th ASEAN Summit, Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi, 27 April 2015,
‘Our people, our community, our vision’, 27 April 2015.
Murdoch, ‘China turns reef into runways’, op. cit.; Emily Rauhala, ‘The
South China Sea fell off Trump’s radar last year. He may have to pay attention
in 2018’, The Washington Post, 1 January 2018.
the ruling: lawfare in the South China Sea’, The Diplomat, 3 August
2016; Christopher B Roberts, ‘The South
China Sea: Beijing’s challenge to ASEAN and UNCLOS and the necessity of a new
multi-tiered approach’, RSIS Working Paper, S. Rajaratnam School of
International Studies, no. 307, 29 August 2017, pp. 6–7.
‘After the ruling’, op. cit.
in the water: the South China Sea arbitral award one year later’, The
Diplomat, 28 June 2017.
‘The South China Sea: Beijing’s challenge’, op. cit., p. 8.
the ASEAN-China framework for the code of conduct for the South China Sea’,
ISEAS Perspective, Issue 2017, no. 62, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak
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Julie Bishop (Minister for Foreign Affairs), Doorstop
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Government, 2017 foreign policy
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calls for ASEAN unity’, The Australian, 9 August 2017.
talks rock Beijing’s boat’, The Australian, 15 November 2017.
Anthony Milner and Jenny McGregor, ‘Embrace
ASEAN, but we’ve got listening to do’, Australian Financial Review,
8 January 2018.
Turnbull extends olive branch to China’, Australian Financial Review,
18 January 2018.
for Policy Analysis of Conflict, ‘Marawi,
the “East Asia Wilayah” and Indonesia’, IPAC report no. 38, 21 July 2017,
after the firestorm’, Weekend Australian, 11 November 2017.
for Marawi provides the opportunity to look beyond the last war’, Australian
Outlook, Australian Institute of International Affairs, 23 October 2017.
battle for Marawi and ISIS in Southeast Asia’, The Strategist, Australian
Strategic Policy Institute, 23 August 2017.
deploys terror aid to Philippines amid Marawi crisis’, The Diplomat,
25 July 2017.
offers drones, urban warfare training grounds, aid to help Philippines fight
militants in Marawi’, The Straits Times, 19 July 2017.
‘Abandoning leadership’, op. cit., p. 45.
accepts help to fight insurgency’, The Canberra Times, 1 September 2017.
Keenan (Minister for Justice), New
counter-terrorism financing working group key to security in South-East Asia,
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statement: national security’, House of Representatives, Debates, 13
June 2017, pp. 6171–75.
a detailed overview of the crisis see International Crisis Group (ICG), ‘Myanmar’s
Rohingya crisis enters a dangerous new phase’, report no. 292/Asia, ICG, 7
is right to delay the repatriation of Rohingya refugees’, 2018/6, ISEAS-Yusof
Ishak Institute, 24 January 2018.
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Thuzar and Lex Rieffel, ‘ASEAN’s
Myanmar dilemma’, ISEAS Perspective, Issue 2018, no. 3, ISEAS-Yusof
Ishak Institute, 8 January 2018.
Chairman’s statement on the humanitarian situation in Rakhine State, 24
Bishop (Minister for Foreign Affairs), Further
humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh and Myanmar, media release, 23
Bishop joins Insiders’, Insiders, transcript, Australian
Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), 1 October 2017.
crisis: Australia must cut ties with Myanmar Army’, 20 September 2017.
Mason and Heather Stewart, ‘UK
to suspend training of Burmese military over treatment of Rohingya’, The
Guardian, 20 September 2017; Heather Nauert (Department Spokesperson, US
Department of State), Accountability
for human rights abuses in Rakhine State, Burma, press statement, 23
cooperation with Myanmar—Australia and other countries: a quick guide,
Research paper series, 2017–18, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 13 October 2017.
‘Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis enters a dangerous new phase’, op. cit.
ASEAN and regional cooperation, op. cit., pp. 13–14.
Bishop (Minister for Foreign Affairs), Change
and uncertainty in the Indo-Pacific: strategic challenges and opportunities,
speech, 28th IISS Fullerton Lecture, Singapore, 13 March 2017.
dominance, new dominos in Southeast Asia’, new mandala, 25 October
2017; Thomas Pepinsky, ‘Democracy
isn’t receding in Southeast Asia, authoritarianism is enduring’, East
Asia Forum, 4 November 2017; Heather Nauert (Department Spokesperson, US
Department of State), Conviction of
peaceful activists, press statement, 6 February 2018.
Sen scores victory in Cambodia’s commune elections’, The Diplomat, 6
A. Thayer, ‘Cambodia:
a democracy no longer, descends into autocratic rule’, Asian Currents,
Asian Studies Association of Australia, 13 October 2017.
ascendant: Cambodia’s politics and Australia’s dilemmas’, FlagPost,
Parliamentary Library blog, 14 September 2017.
‘Hun Sen scores victory’, op. cit.
Chan Thul and Amy Sawitta Lefevre, ‘Cambodia’s
main opposition party dissolved by Supreme Court’, Reuters, 16
Bishop (Minister for Foreign Affairs), Political
situation in Cambodia, media release, 17 November 2017.
Milner and Ron Huisken, Smaller but enmeshed, op. cit.
van Onselen and Paul Kelly, ‘Transcript of interview with Peter van Onselen and
Paul Kelly’, Australian Agenda, Sky News, 25 November 2012.
further details on DFAT’s views on these issues in 2012, see Bob Carr, Diary
of a Foreign Minister, New South Publishing, Sydney, 2014, p. 275. See
also Frost, Engaging the neighbours, op. cit., pp. 182–184.
Dobell presents his arguments for Australian membership in further detail in
Graeme Dobell, Australia
as an ASEAN community partner, Special report, Australian Strategic
Policy Institute, Canberra, February 2018.
Turnbull (Prime Minister), Keynote
address: 16th IISS Asia Security Summit, Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore,
transcript, 2 June 2017.
Wong (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and Shadow Minister for Foreign
and prosperity in a time of disruption, speech, Lee Kuan Yew School of
Public Policy, Singapore, 24 January 2018. See also Mahbubani and Sng, The
ASEAN miracle, op. cit.
Peace and prosperity, op. cit.
Frost, Engaging the neighbours, op. cit., pp. 44–45.
(Prime Minister), Keynote address: 16th IISS Asia Security Summit, op.
discussion below draws from the ASEAN-Australia
Special Summit 2018 official website.
paragraphs below draw from Frost, Engaging the neighbours, op. cit., pp.
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