On the weekend of 16-18 March, ASEAN leaders met in Sydney to attend the first ASEAN-Australia Special Summit.
The Summit, proposed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the ASEAN-Australia Biennial Summit in Laos in 2016, included a leaders’ summit and retreat, a business summit, and a counter-terrorism conference.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is formed by ten of Australia’s northern neighbours, Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Except for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, leaders attended to take part in talks on trade, counter-terrorism and the global rise of nationalism.
ASEAN is Australia’s third-largest trading partner, and nearly one million Australians are from ASEAN nations. Since 2010, the ASEAN-Australia relationship has included the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, the establishment of an Australian Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta, and an agreement to upgrade the relationship to a strategic partnership.
The outcomes of the Summit mostly stressed cooperation between the member countries, with a strong emphasis on regional security. Australia will provide technical assistance to help ASEAN countries develop best practice counterterrorism laws. , more regional counter terrorism talks. More talks are planned on areas of peacekeeping, protection of human rights and promotion of gender equality.
Australia has agreed to a $30 million investment to support training in sustainable urban planning ideas, and an infrastructure cooperation initiative to develop projects to attract public and private investment.
The Australian Treasury will carry out workshops with ASEAN counterparts on topics such as tax, regulation reform and budget policy. Also proposed are a scholarship for an Australian undergraduate student to study in an ASEAN country, and 50 new scholarships for ASEAN post graduates students to study in Australia.
With Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attending the Summit on one of her rare trips outside her country, some human rights spokespersons called for Mr Turnbull to use the summit to discuss Myanmar's Rohingya refugee crisis.
A Myanmar military campaign in the country's northern Rakhine State is said to killed nearly 7,000 Rohingya Muslims, and forced more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee their country for makeshift refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh. Although criticised by the United Nations for the campaign, Myanmar claims it is combating an armed terrorist group. A group from the Burmese community in Australia indicated they supported Ms Suu Kyi's approach to the crisis.
The Rakhine situation was discussed “at considerable length”, Prime Minister Turnbull said, and Ms Suu Kyi addressed the matter herself. However, the Summit did not condemn Myanmar's actions. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the crisis was a concern, but ASEAN was not able to intervene.