Renewed Spirit of Cooperation between ASEAN and Australia

The Khmer Times, 19 March 2018

The two-day special summit between Asean and Australia wrapped up yesterday in Sydney with a renewed spirit of cooperation along with some concrete action plans to further cement the bilateral ties.

The summit was another milestone for the 44 years of dialogue partnership.

The key messages arising from the summit are the acknowledgement of Asean’s central role in shaping regional architecture, the promotion of a rules-based regional and international order, peaceful settlement of disputes, and the preservation of open, dynamic and competitive economies.

“We are fully committed to backing Asean as the strategic convener of our region,” stated Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“You want a region where everybody, regardless of their size is respected in their sovereignty and ability to determine their own course,” Mr Turnbull said, referring to the security concern and geopolitical uncertainty caused by the fast-rising influence of China in the region.

Some of the initiatives arising from the summit relate to counter-terrorism, counter trafficking in persons, cyber security and digital trade, economic policy cooperation, maritime cooperation, urbanisation and infrastructure, connectivity, education, health, and gender equality.

Terrorism, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes, and the South China Sea issue were discussed. The leaders expressed their support for “the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety and look forward to an early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC)”.

Collective wisdom and efforts in fighting against economic protectionism were highlighted. The Asean leaders agreed that maintaining an open liberal international economic regime and order helps spur economic opportunities and growth.

Within the context of power shifts caused by the relatively declining power of the US and the rising power of China, Asean and Australia are compelled to work closer to maintain strategic equilibrium in the region.

Australia regards Asean as one of the key strategic and economic actors in Asia. Asean is the third largest trading partner of Australia and bilateral trade volume topped $38 billion in 2016.

Asean and Australia share the view that deepening regional economic integration through trade and investment facilitation – such as the early conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – serves common economic interests.

RCEP is perceived as a “modern, comprehensive, high quality, and mutually beneficial” regional trade arrangement.

The joint statement issued after the summit reads, “This Summit reaffirms that we are partners with a vital stake in a dynamic region undergoing major changes. We commit to intensify our shared work to shape a secure and prosperous region for our people.”

“As highly trade-oriented economies, we reaffirm our support to enhance trade and investment as well as resisting all forms of protectionism to improve regional development and prosperity,” it added.

Concerning infrastructure development, three qualifiers were added: quality, sustainable and transparent. The intention is to distinguish the infrastructure projects from those of China.

Australia will extend its support to narrow the development gap within Asean particularly through the implementation of the Initiative for Asean Integration (IAI).

Australia has committed $30 million to implement the Asean-Australia Smart Cities initiative, which is aimed to strengthen collaboration on smart and sustainable urban planning.

Over the next five years, Australia will also help strengthen Asean’s capacity in urban planning and development through education, training, technical assistance, and innovation.

Both sides were also committed to promote common values such as peace, harmony, intercultural understanding, the rule of law, good governance, respect, trust, tolerance, inclusiveness, moderation, social responsibility and diversity.

Terrorist threats and violent extremism are shared security concerns and both Asean and Australia agreed that in order to respond effectively, it is necessary to deepen and sustain cooperation across the region.

Terrorist groups and networks are getting more complex and countries in the region need to work even more closely to deal with terrorism threats.

At the special summit, both Asean and Australia signed an agreement on counter-terrorism. The scope of cooperation as stated in the 2016 joint declaration includes cooperation among law enforcement and security agencies, intelligence and information-sharing especially on terrorist financing and crime related to money laundering, capacity building, transport security and border controls.

On social issues, Australia expressed its support to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women to realise sustained, inclusive peace and prosperity and economic development.

At the sidelines of the special summit, there were several bilateral meetings between Australian Prime Minister and his Asean counterparts. At the bilateral meeting between Mr Turbull and Prime Minister Hun Sen, Australia provided $67 million of aid to Cambodia for 2018.

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