ASEAN & Countering Chinese IndoPacific Expansion
This March, Australia hosted an ASEAN summit for the first time. For Australia - a non-member - to host a summit for South East Asia’s preeminent multilateral organisation is significant, and it comes as the regional balance of power increasingly shifts in favour of China.
ASEAN, arguably the most diverse regional multilateral organisation in the world, brings together many culturally, socially, religiously and economically disparate South East Asian states. By providing a regional forum for discussion amongst different states, ASEAN has contributed to a regional environment characterised by peace, stability, and prosperity.
Previously a leader in the region, the withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral regional trade agreement that excluded China, has cost the United States much of its authority and leadership in the region. This has fuelled the opportunity for China to build its regional influence.
Accompanying China’s economic growth, has been the growing desire to inform, influence, and lead the world. This desire has been expressed in both subtler and more conspicuous means, such as the One Belt One Road initiative, or the militarisation of artificial islands in the South China Sea.
The ambition to wield a larger proportion of influence in the region is evidenced by China’s pursuit of relations with ASEAN members, pulling them closer into its orbit, and limiting the potential for Australia to effect change through our own brand of middle power diplomacy.
The danger of such potential limitations might be indicated by the non-attendance of the Philippines’ President, Rodrigo Duterte, at the special ASEAN-Australia summit. It’s hard for states to effect change if other states will not engage with them.
Should Australia leverage its relationship with ASEAN to counter growing Chinese influence in South-East Asia and the South Pacific?
The Strategist, ‘Southeast Asia comes to Sydney: Meeting, message, meaning & mateship’
Sydney Morning Herald, ‘How a worried Australia should deal with a mighty and demanding China’
The Strategist, ‘Duterte: a bull in a China shop’
The Strategist, ‘Tiptoeing around the nine-dash line: Southeast Asia after ASEAN’
Gareth Evans, ‘Middle Power Diplomacy’
Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Donald Trump’s tough guy theatrics no match for China’s economic weapons’
The Australian, ‘Australian trade and investment to benefit from Belt and Road’
Lowy Institute, ‘Global Diplomacy Index’
The Guardian, ‘Australia seen as America's deputy sheriff’