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Charting the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Relationship – Key Takeaways from the 11th AANZ Dialogue

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16 Nov Charting the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Relationship – Key Takeaways from the 11th AANZ Dialogue

While much attention has been paid to ASEAN’s relations with the US and China, its engagement of Australia and New Zealand is equally important. Exploring why and how the three parties are engaging each other was the topic of the 11th ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand (AANZ) Dialogue, organised by the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, Asialink and the Asia New Zealand Foundation. This invitation-only event brought together academics and diplomats such as Ms. Jane Duke, the Australian Ambassador to ASEAN; Mr. Simon Draper, Executive Director of the Asia New Zealand Foundation; and Ms. Penny Burtt, former-SIIA Council Member and Group CEO of Asialink. Ms. Chen Chen Lee, our Director of Policy Programmes, also spoke at this event.

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Cooperation and its Challenges

The root of AANZ cooperation lies in their shared interest in the rules-based, inclusive, liberal economic order. With this order coming under threat by rising protectionism, Australia is supporting institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to resolve trade disputes. New Zealand is looking to engage like-minded countries with experience in navigating great power relations. Overall, all three parties of AANZ aim to preserve the order that has guaranteed their prosperity thus far.

This grouping faces numerous challenges. Amid simmering trade tensions and concerns about global economic growth, AANZ need to agree on issues such as the reform of the WTO.  Yet, the tendency for western countries to be outspoken about democratic values is a point of concern for some ASEAN members. In response, Australian delegates clarified that their country does not proselytise on democracy, and pointed to their long record of working with countries with different political systems as a sign of their diplomatic pragmatism.

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Complexity of Views on China

ASEAN countries are not alone in their nuanced approaches to China. Australia and New Zealand’s extensive trade ties with China are matched by growing concerns about security. While Canberra blocked ZTE from developing the national 5G network, they maintained that the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is not meant to contain China. In New Zealand, a recent poll found that locals saw China as New Zealand’s 4th best friend and 3rd biggest threat due to economic domination. With rumours of espionage and influence-peddling efforts abounding, this mixed engagement is expected to continue.

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Wither the Indo-Pacific?

As a member of the Quad, Australian delegates described the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) as a concept that makes “complete geographic and geostrategic sense”. They maintained that FOIP focuses on reinforcing principles such as consensus and conversation, rather than creating new architecture, and that ASEAN would play a central role in its development.

Yet, ASEAN and New Zealand delegates expressed concerns about FOIP. New Zealand does not share Australia’s strategic focus on the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, while Australia currently supports ASEAN’s centrality and rejects FOIP as containment of China, there is no guarantee that this arrangement will persist. Hence, rather than relying on FOIP as the cornerstone of the regional strategic landscape, AANZ are looking towards concluding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to uphold the embattled liberal economic order.