2008 ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Dialogue - Report of Proceedings

5-6 December 2008, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Asialink has been a key player in the first ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Dialogue, held in Kuala Lumpur on 5-6 December. The host organization was ASEAN-ISIS, the influential Track II organization that has played a critical role in regional diplomacy. The Dialogue was characterized by frank discussion - about the strengths and weaknesses of ASEAN, the way the new ASEAN-Australia-NZ Free Trade Agreement might be implemented, the security different contributions made by Australia and New Zealand to the region, the causes and regional implications of the current global economic crisis, the Australian proposal for an Asia-Pacific Community, and the deep traumas of Myanmar/Burma.

ASEAN, Australian and NZ participants exchanged views about the larger regional powers: the US, China, Japan, India and Russia. There was no sign of hostility from ASEAN toward a rising China - but nor was the idea of a Chinese regional paramountcy viewed as inevitable, or welcomed.

Everyone in the room engaged in these discussions - and the frankness (and sometimes passion) of the exchanges was striking. Here some saw real evidence of the way Track II processes can help deepen regional engagement.

A number of practical ideas were floated - ideas for implementing the new FTA, a suggestion for an Australia-NZ role in the Chiang Mai initiative, a possible expansion of the longstanding 'Five Power' security arrangements (currently involving only Malaysia, Singapore, NZ and Australia), a proposal to develop a special role for Indonesia and Australia representing ASEAN views in the G20 context. Some of these ideas may prove influential - but, in any case, the Dialogue gave an opportunity to test them in a relaxed, informal way.

Asialink was represented by its Chair, Sid Myer, and Board Member and Professorial Fellow Tony Milner. Our Australian partners were ANU and the Lowy Institute, and we had representatives from The Australian and the Office of National Assessments. Dr Richard Grant, Executive Director of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, led the New Zealand participants.  Both the Australian and NZ High Commissioners in Kuala Lumpur took part in the discussions. The ASEAN-ISIS Chair, Professor Carolina Hernandez, opened the Dialogue, and ISIS-Malaysia (under its Chairman Tan Sri Mohamed Jawhar Hassan) was the host organization.