SYDNEY: ASEAN leaders, with the exception of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, will convene in Sydney for the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit this weekend.
The summit, which will take place on Saturday (Mar 17) and Sunday, will represent the first time Australia is hosting a summit with ASEAN leaders in its country.
The event is the result of an invitation extended by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to ASEAN leaders in 2016 during the first ASEAN-Australia Biennial Summit in Laos.
Political observers have said that it is a significant move on Australia’s part to reaffirm its ties with ASEAN, which date back to 1974 when it became the bloc’s first dialogue partner. Relations were elevated to a strategic partnership in 2014.
ASEAN has grown by leaps and bounds since its formation, and this is likely to continue. It now has a population of more than 630 million, a combined gross domestic product of about US$2.6 trillion in 2016, and an average economic growth of around 5 per cent. The region’s trade with Australia in 2016 was worth about US$73 billion, just behind China and the European Union.
The upcoming summit could also seen as part of Australia’s attempts, under Mr Turnbull’s leadership, to step up its engagement with the regional grouping to ensure the country’s prosperity and security in a changing global landscape.
In his keynote speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue last year, Mr Turnbull said ASEAN “embodies opportunity” in the region, and called it a “strategic convener” that supports and maintains the rule of law.
Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper also highlighted that the government will ensure the country remains a strategic partner for ASEAN, as “competition for influence in Southeast Asia sharpens”.
Regional security, economic opportunities and people-to-people relations are some of the key issues on the agenda at the summit, which will also play host to two major side events – a business summit and a counter-terrorism conference. ASEAN leaders are also expected to make a push for the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Special summits like these are common in the 10-member bloc. In 2016, ASEAN held one with the United States in Sunnylands, California, and another with Russia in Sochi.