Australian Mission to ASEAN

‘Partnering for Prosperity and Peace in Uncertain Times’ Address at the Australia-ASEAN Dialogue Welcome Dinner, Monday 12 March 2018, Sydney

Partnering for Prosperity and Peace in Uncertain Times

Address at the Australia-ASEAN Dialogue Welcome Dinner,

12 March 2018, Sydney, Australia


Good evening and thank you John (Blaxland). 

Let me acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet, and I pay my respects to their Elders both past and present.

To my good friend Ambassador Ong, thank you for your remarks.

Distinguished guests from across the ASEAN region and from Australia.

We are fortunate to have been brought together by organisations dedicated to promoting a deeper understanding of ASEAN-Australia relations.

Let me express my appreciation to PWC for hosting this dinner tonight and to all those who have travelled far for participating in this Dialogue.

Before we set loose this gathering’s formidable capacity to resolve the challenges facing our region, perhaps we could consider a few tips from ASEAN’s experts.

There have been many colourful descriptors of ASEAN over its 50 years. 

Ambassador Ong, you’ve long been an articulate voice for ASEAN to be ambitious about regional community-building. In fact, I understand you once likened ASEAN to being a journey on a bus – with bumps in the road at times giving everyone headaches!

For Australia’s part, we see it like this: if ASEAN is in the driver’s seat, Australia was one of the first to buy a ticket.

Together, over our history, we have successfully navigated many “bumps in the road” - challenges ranging from security, financial and humanitarian crises, to natural disasters.

In meeting these challenges, my message tonight is that we cannot for a moment rest on our success.

We must continue to make the right policy choices so that the success we have enjoyed can be sustained in a more uncertain future and during more complex times.

ASEAN’s success has benefited us all

Over the past fifty years, ASEAN’s habits of dialogue, cooperation and pursuit of regional economic integration has fostered trust, stability and unprecedented prosperity.

At a time when questions hang over the ability of multilateral institutions to address common problems, the ‘ASEAN Way’ has shown how patient statecraft has worked for our region.

Former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa recently said, we should not get frustrated by ASEAN, nor give up on it.  He reminded us that

“diplomacy requires endurance, patience, perseverance, persuasive arguments. Don’t get exasperated - that’s diplomacy.”

ASEAN’s record speaks for itself.  

While preserving the sovereignty and autonomy of its members, ASEAN has helped to minimise conflict between its member states, overseeing a period of remarkable stability.

As Southeast Asia’s strategic convenor, ASEAN has used its influence to amplify its voice on the global stage.

It’s successful engagement of major powers such as the United States, China, India, Japan and Russia on its platforms such as the East Asia Summit, the region’s premier political and security forum, shows how cleverly ASEAN has managed its external relations.

At the same time, ASEAN’s material wealth, measured as GDP, has more than doubled in real terms in less than two decades.

With ASEAN now representing around 15 per cent of Australia’s total trade, and as our third largest trading partner, after China and the European Union, its ongoing prosperity is inseparable to our own.
Its growth prospects are equally impressive: PWC’s own forecasts that ASEAN will be equivalent to the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2030.

ASEAN has sought to shape a region in which might is not right and where inclusiveness is the norm.

By any measure, these are extraordinary achievements.

And Australia and the entire region, directly benefits from ASEAN’s success.

Challenges facing Australia and ASEAN

But even as we’ve enjoyed an extended period of stability and prosperity, several trends are converging to create a more uncertain outlook for Australia and the region, and indeed, the rest of the world.

The Australian Government’s latest Foreign Policy White Paper has assessed these trends.

These include the assessment that while the United States remains the most powerful country, its long dominance of the international order is being challenged by other powers and the post-Cold War lull in major power rivalry has ended.

Another trend is the shifting power in the broader Indo-Pacific region. The effect of China’s growth is accelerating shifts in relative economic and strategic weight.

In parts of the Indo–Pacific, including in Southeast Asia, China’s power and influence are growing to match, and in some cases exceed, that of the United States.

Other trends include rising anti-globalisation and economic populism, the evolving terrorist threat in our region, technological change, demographic shifts and climate change.

Southeast Asia sits at a nexus of strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific - a position which poses a major test for the region’s cohesion.

This includes how the region responds to rising tensions in the South China Sea.

Australia’s position on this issue is well known to all of you here.  I won’t reiterate it here, but I do want to highlight here our support for the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, and that we put our principles into practice.

On 6 March, Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, signed a treaty for the permanent delimitation of Australia’s maritime boundary with Timor-Leste.

Agreement on this new maritime boundary was achieved following a conciliation process provided for under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — but the first compulsory conciliation ever undertaken.

The Foreign Minister said, “Through this process, a dispute has become a settlement. A disagreement with our neighbour has been satisfactorily concluded, and the rules-based order has again shown its value in regulating conduct between states.”

Another issue is the region’s most immediate security challenge, the grave and growing threat posed by North Korea.

Clearly, any major instability or conflict on the Korean Peninsula would have severe strategic, economic and humanitarian repercussions. 

Which is why Australia will continue to work with our partners to pressure North Korea to end its dangerous and illegal behaviour.

ASEAN’s resolve is a vital component of the diplomatic and economic pressure required to compel North Korea back to the negotiating table and to deter it from taking further actions that threaten our whole region. Reports that North Korea is willing to hold a dialogue with the US about denuclearisation are developments to watch.

Time will tell how significant this development is.

We welcome any steps by the North which lead to a genuine de-escalation of tensions.

And in the meantime, we will persist with maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea, as mandated by United Nations resolutions.

A third challenge facing the region is geo-economic.

Even as economic growth has bound economies in our region closer, infrastructure development and trade policies are being used as instruments for strategic as well as commercial advantage.

This poses policy dilemmas for countries in the region.

Pressures on open trade policies are re-surfacing.

As nations understandably look for fairness in global trade, the best response to unfair competition is to use the global enforcement mechanisms that are available, in particular the dispute settlement processes provided by the World Trade Organization.

It remains vital for all of us to resist protectionism and to continue progress towards deeper and closer economic integration. 

On 8 March, 11 partner nations, including Australia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, formally signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the “CPTPP”.

The agreement sets a high standard with respect to the rules and principles guiding economic liberalisation between its partners.

It will help the member economies become more competitive and take advantage of opportunities that would otherwise not exist.

The agreement has an open architecture and its partners welcome additional members in the future if they are willing to abide by its principles and play by its rules.

At the same time, Australia and ASEAN are participating in negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

A high-quality RCEP agreement would strengthen the regional trade and investment environment, boost regional economic confidence and benefit consumers.

The ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA of course remains the region’s “gold standard” for promoting open trade and building capacity.

Australia believes norms – and rules – make us all safer and more prosperous.

We support a region where transparent rules apply to all; to use Lee Kuan Yew’s famous phrase to - the big fish, the little fish and the shrimps.

Amidst this uncertainty, Australia’s remains committed in our support for a strong, united ASEAN that continues to support the rule of law and liberal economic values.

Australia is a strong partner for ASEAN

I have outlined already ASEAN’s importance to Australia for its stability dividend and for its economic opportunity.  Equally, Australia has much to offer ASEAN.

We share with ASEAN an interest in shaping a regional order where all nations have the right to pursue their interests peacefully, in accordance with international law and in cooperation with their neighbours.

We cooperate closely in addressing transnational threats such as terrorism, cyber, transnational crime.

Australia’s strong economy is integral to our international strength and influence.

We are entering our 27th consecutive year of uninterrupted economic growth.

We are the 13th largest economy in the world and a member of the G20.

Our economy is more diverse than it has ever been, with growth coming from exporting not only commodities but services, agricultural products, high quality food and wine to meet the evolving tastes of the region’s middle class.

We share with ASEAN close people-to-people connections. 

Our relationship was greatly enriched by the thousands of students from South East Asia who studied in Australia under the Colombo Plan over four decades, and by more than 16,000 students who have studied in Australia under the Australia Awards since 2007. 

Australian universities are world-class and we continue to welcome the 100,000 students each year from across ASEAN who study in Australia.

The New Colombo Plan builds on this powerful legacy.

Today there are close to 1 million Australians who proudly claim their heritage from countries across Southeast Asia.

Our military capabilities allow us to support our partners in the region, for example, standing with the Philippines against the ISIL-inspired terrorists in Marawi.

We use our development assistance program with ASEAN to tackle issues like human trafficking, enhance connectivity and promote stronger economic competition laws.

Our strength as a nation comes from being one of the world’s most successful multicultural societies that embraces its diversity.

The Special Summit is strengthening ties with the region

Australia’s strengths will help us navigate an uncertain future with confidence, helped enormously by the strategic partnership we have with ASEAN.

We prize our place in the front rank of ASEAN’s external relationships.

Indeed, as competition for influence grows in our region, the Australian Government will increase Australia’s efforts to ensure we are a leading economic, security and development partner for Southeast Asia.

This week’s ASEAN-Australia Special Summit represents both a major step-up in Australia’s commitment to ASEAN as well as a demonstration of our enduring ties with the countries of Southeast Asia.

The Special Summit is the first meeting of its kind in Australia and will be the first time that ASEAN leaders have met as a group in Australia.

As you’ve no doubt heard already, the Summit’s themes are enhancing regional security and prosperity.

These themes will be discussed by leaders at their retreat and in their considerations of regional dynamics, preceded by two major lead-in events, a Counter-Terrorism Conference and a Business Summit.

These themes will have practical results which I won’t detail tonight, but are aimed at, for example, strengthening our joint efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism, and helping to secure greater opportunities for our people and businesses.

And of course inseparable to the success of this week is this Dialogue taking place involving the participants here tonight.

Australia’s relationship with ASEAN of course draws impetus from people and institutions outside government.

Government welcomes your ideas, and even though we might at times not always agree, I know it provides critical ballast to the Australia-ASEAN relationship.


Let me conclude by saying that we have in place a series of arrangements that should give us confidence to navigate an uncertain future – those ‘bumps in the road’  that we will almost certainly face.

We share values, a belief in a rules-based order and principles that encourage nations to negotiate, not impose their will.

We believe in policies to maintain openness in our trading and economic relationships, because the prosperity of our nations and the quality of life of our people depend on it.

I want to wish you well for the Dialogue and welcome your ideas.

Australia may be an old friend to ASEAN but we are open to new ways to build on our partnership for a secure and prosperous future for our region.