Indo-Pacific players Australia and ASEAN have agreed to upgrade their ties with a “global strategic partnership,” the regional bloc chairman said Wednesday, announcing the kind of strengthened relationship with the group China has coveted since last year. .
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Australia elevated their relationship a month after members of the bloc criticized the signing of the AUKUS pact, with which Washington and London will provide Canberra with the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines.
Brunei, holding the rotating presidency of ASEAN this year, said in a statement by the president that the two sides are moving beyond a mere strategic relationship.
“We have agreed to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership between ASEAN and Australia that is meaningful, substantial and mutually beneficial,” said the ASEAN president.
Australia and ASEAN first established a bilateral dialogue in 1974.
“We are pleased with the steady progress in improving ASEAN-Australia dialogue relations over the past 47 years, including the implementation of the Action Plan for the Implementation of the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership,” said the ASEAN President.
Before Brunei released the statement, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke about the global strategic partnership (CSP) as he led his country’s delegation to the inaugural ASEAN-Australia summit on Wednesday.
Canberra, he said, had proposed updating the ties and “if ASEAN decides to accept the CSP, Australia is, of course, ready.”
“A CSP, however, is more than just a label. We will support it with substance that positions our partnership to address complex challenges in the future, ”Morrison told his ASEAN counterparts.
Canberra will also provide A $ 124 million (US $ 93.1 million) to fund projects, jointly identified by ASEAN and Australia, to address emerging challenges, he added. These include COVID-19 recovery, terrorism, transnational crime, energy security, and the shift to low-carbon technologies.
China against ASEAN
Meanwhile, Beijing is still waiting to hear from ASEAN China’s desire to elevate its partnership with the bloc, as declared last year And reaffirmed in June. The Asian superpower is competing with the US – and now the UK and Australia as well – to exert influence in a region that has become a theater of global geopolitics.
“China’s desire to improve bilateral relations reflects ASEAN’s long-standing economic and strategic importance to Beijing,” noted ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, a group of experts from Singapore, in an article published last month. .
At the China-ASEAN summit on Tuesday, Beijing did not talk about improving relations. But he sweetened the dish by offering “to hold a summit together to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the dialogue relationship between China and ASEAN,” in which President Xi Jinping could participate, according to some reports.
China’s proposal has so far been met with a “gentle, muted response” from ASEAN, the article states in the ISEAS publication.
“ASEAN fears that adopting it could be interpreted as a stance” against Washington, he said, adding that any political or security relationship between China and the bloc would be subject to changing push-and-pull tensions related to the China Sea. Southern.
The Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Waller (SSG 75), a Collins-class diesel-electric submarine, was spotted in Sydney Harbor on 2 November 2016. [AFP]
China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters within Taiwan’s Exclusive Economic Zones and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Beijing is militarizing the South China Sea, which it considers its backyard.
It has escalated its brazen forays into the exclusive economic zones of other requesting nations, used its maritime militia to harass fishermen in waters claimed by other countries, and parked its scout ships in oil-rich areas in the waters of others.
Now, faced with accelerating Washington’s freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, Beijing is seeking allies in Southeast Asia, but the nations of the region are cautious despite China’s financial weight.
During his speech at the East Asia Summit on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden “reaffirmed the US commitment to the rules-based international order and expressed concern about the threats to that order.”
“The United States will continue to support allies and partners in support of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the freedom of the seas,” Biden said, according to a White House statement.
The East Asia Summit is an Indo-Pacific dialogue forum made up of 10 ASEAN member states, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Russia.
AUKUS and ASEAN
None of these problems have been a factor between ASEAN and Australia, although the AUKUS trilateral pact has been a source of heartburn for some of the bloc’s member states.
Neither ASEAN nor the Australian Morrison avoided addressing the pact between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom announced on September 15.
AUKUS is thought to be designed to counter Beijing’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the South China Sea.
The three maritime democracies of AUKUS did not mention China. They said the pact will allow them to strengthen mutual support for security and defense interests and “help support peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region”.
But Indonesia and Malaysia were unhappy with the deal, saying it would favor an arms race – possibly nuclear – in Southeast Asia. Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam were more optimistic about AUKUS. ASEAN, which operates by consensus, could not agree on a joint declaration on the pact.
Prime Minister Morrison and other senior Australian officials spoke on the phone and met in person with ASEAN leaders and ministers, to reassure them that Canberra was aware of its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and believed in the centrality of ASEAN in the south. -East Asia.
On Wednesday, the ASEAN president’s statement said the bloc welcomed “Australia’s continued support and reassertion for ASEAN centrality” and its commitment to regional peace, stability and security.
Among individual ASEAN member states, Indonesia reiterated its concern but also said it fully supports the new strengthened relationship the bloc has forged with Australia.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that agreements like AUKUS “must not complicate our working methods for cooperation”.
For his part, Aussie Morrison told ASEAN that AUKUS strengthens Canberra’s support for an ASEAN-led regional architecture.
“AUKUS joins our network of partnerships that support regional stability and security,” he said Wednesday.
Reported by BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with RFA.