The 11th ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Dialogue 2018 was convened by trilateral partners Asialink, the Institute for Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, and the Asia New Zealand Foundation, on 21 to 23 October in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The Australian delegation included delegates from Asialink, the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA), Griffith Asia Institute, the Australian National University (ANU), and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Three New Colombo Plan Scholars joined the delegation to participate in a NextGen youth program.
The first session focused on China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific. The key question addressed in this session was the impact of China’s rising geo-strategic and economic influence in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, through investment (the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), trade and development assistance. Discussion also focused on China’s soft power diplomacy in the region and its engagement with the Chinese diaspora. The contrast between China’s approach to its regional relationships and that of the United States and Japan as rising powers in earlier decades was explored.
Managing relations with the United States, China, and other major powers was the focus of the second session. Participants examined the differences in the way ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand are managing their relations with major powers, differing approaches to alliance building, perceptions of the Indo-Pacific as a regional construct and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue
The third session focused on economic diplomacy and trade strategies. With the Asia-Pacific as the ‘engine room’ of the global economy – the economic and trade architecture for the region is complex. Different economies are aligned with different economic partnership and trade agreements, with varying levels of ambition and quality. Participants shared views on the prospects for the regional trade agreements including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CP-TPP) and the ASEAN Australia New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA), as well as the future of the WTO-based multilateral trade regime against the backdrop of the U.S.-China trade dispute and rising unilateralism. There was strong alignment across participants on the value of multilateralism and free trade in the Indo-Pacific and the need for countries in the region to continue efforts on trade and investment liberalisation. The forthcoming APEC Leaders meeting in PNG would be an important opportunity to press forward.
In the fourth session, the question of Australia and New Zealand in Asia as regional stakeholders or external players was asked. This provocative session aimed to stimulate a discussion on how participants from Australia and New Zealand view their role and identity in Southeast Asia and the wider Asia Pacific, as well as how they are viewed in turn by their Southeast Asian counterparts. There was a clear distinction drawn between Australia’s approach to the region and New Zealand’s foreign and trade policy engagement. Both Australia and New Zealand underlined the importance of South East Asia to their respective regional engagement efforts, with Australia highlighting the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit which took place in Sydney in 2018 providing a platform for deepening the relationship.
Session five turned to the evolving political dynamics within Southeast Asia, and their impact on ASEAN and its dialogue partners. This session aimed to discuss the prospects for democracy and liberalism in Southeast Asia in the wake of national elections in Malaysia and Cambodia, and regional elections in Indonesia, as well as in anticipation of presidential and parliamentary election in Indonesia and Thailand in 2019. The key questions for this session were, what are the key priorities of the elected policymakers and what impact could these developments have on ASEAN as a regional grouping? How best can ASEAN's Dialogue Partners respond and what engagement strategies can the latter adopt? The diversity of political systems within Southeast Asia was discussed, as was the willingness of Australia and New Zealand to engage with individual South East Asian countries and ASEAN as a whole on a constructive basis.
The sixth and final session provided an opportunity for the young NextGen delegation to share perspectives on ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand cooperation and challenges. The session had two main objectives: (i) getting fresh views from young delegates/scholars on the various issues impacting ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand; and (ii) engaging and building the research interests of a new generation of scholars and think-tankers on key issues in the Indo-Pacific. The young delegates/scholars presented their views of the issues discussed during the dialogue. They also tackled the question of the value of closer ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand engagement in the future. Top of mind for the Next Gen participants were the importance of climate change to the future stability and prosperity of the region; prospects for democracy in South East Asia; and the relevance of ASEAN as an organization to the younger generation of foreign and economic policy thinkers.