ASEAN and Australia’s New Idea: Supported or Sidelined?

Updated On: Jun 17, 2008

ABC, Fri Jun 13, 2008
ASEAN chief backs Rudd's regional body plan

The Nation , June 14, 2008
Has asean been left out in the cold?

The Age, June 6, 2008 
Keating blast for Rudd's Asia union

Australia’s new Premier Kevin Rudd has shown support for ASEAN and yet also put forward a suggestion for a new Asian framework that may, some fear, sideline the organization.

Rudd showed support when he visited Jakarta, and pledged to contribute A$57 million to support ASEAN's economic integration goals in the second phase of the ASEAN-Australia Development Cooperation Program. He also went to the ASEAN Secretariat to meet with Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, as the first non ASEAN leader visit the premises.

The suggestion that may sideline ASEAN is Rudd’s idea for an Asia-Pacific union that would include the USA alongside China, Japan, Australia, India and Indonesia. The proposed union would especially focus on security issues.

While Indonesia would be included in Rudd’s vision, ASEAN as a group was absent from this configuration. In contrast, ASEAN wants to serve as a hub of a wider and rising Asia and currently hosts the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN plus 3 processes.

When they met, Secretary General Surin welcomed Mr Rudd's vision for Asia but stressed that he wanted ASEAN to become involved with it.

PM Rudd has been canvassing support for the regional body during official bilateral visits to Japan and Indonesia this week. Indonesian President Yudhoyono has however not commented on the idea. In Japan, an alternative idea was surfaced for a dialogue between Japan, China and Australia.

Some see this as a wake-up call for Asean, coming from Australia. Rudd however has been criticized in his own country. Some Australian commentators, including former PM Paul Keating, believe the idea lacks substance and should have allowed for more consultation at a higher level. Others said that if Rudd is serious, he or Foreign Minister Stephen Smith must lobby for it personally, rather than deploying retired Ambassador Richard Wolcott, as special envoy for the proposal.

Related Article