Australia must reimagine its relations with ASEAN. Australia should make ASEAN specifically, and Southeast East Asia generally, the prime focus of attention. ASEAN is a key economic partner, an important bulwark for the rule of law in the Asia-Pacific and an opportunity for Australia to display leadership in a region of central importance to national goals.
As such Australia should not aim to join ASEAN, but it should aim to be recognised as ASEAN’s closest friend. Achieving this requires the continuation of our support for ASEAN activities, an intensification of that support in key areas central to Australia’s national interest and broader social developments within Australia regarding our national identity.
The relationship between Australia and ASEAN should be consciously holistic – covering not just traditional diplomacy but a sustained engagement with social, educational, economic and strategic concerns. Such breadth would overcome reticence from ASEAN members regarding Australia, reticence due to a sense that Australia remains an extra-regional player who picks and chooses when to engage, not an embedded state whose first reflex is regional.
Such a reimagining would have a series of benefits. In particular it would:
This reimagining has costs, which would require careful management to mitigate as far as possible. In particular: