By Pratheeksha Gopinath
All eyes are on Australia as the 2018 ASEAN summit is set to take place this weekend in Sydney. Australia, despite not being a member of ASEAN, intends to actively participate in the summit. The government of Australia wishes to engage in trade talks in order to establish closer ties with the ASEAN countries. It can be a monumental step towards increased trade and counter-terrorism co-operation.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a ten-membered group comprising mainland and archipelago nations like Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines and Laos. The main aim of the organisation is to facilitate trade and cultural co-operation between the member nations. It acts as a catalyst for economic growth and social development. Headquartered in Jakarta, it encourages liberal and non-restrictive trade policies. Likened to the European Union’s common currency of Euro, the ASEAN nations want to establish a common regional currency of their own.
ASEAN brings together countries with contrasting governing policies. It doesn’t have the pre-requisite of accepting only a democratic nation as its member. Its member countries range from quasi-military regimes, communist nations, and dictatorships to absolute monarchies. ASEAN believes in avoiding conflicts through consensus and conciliation. But its policy of ‘non-intervention’ in the affairs of its member nations has been heavily criticised.
Protests ahead of the summit
Eight ASEAN countries have been involved in crimes against humanity, including Cambodia, Myanmar and Philippines. They have earned a despicable reputation for violence. The Cambodian PM Hun Sen has been reprimanded for his misuse of power; he has been castigated for his corrupt ways. The Cambodian diaspora in Australia showed their dissent over the arrival of Sen by planning protests. Protests condemning the violence against the Rohingya ethnic community in Myanmar were also reported. Myanmar has been globally rebuked for its appalling persecution against the Muslim minority community of Rohingya. Abhorring acts of violence bordering on genocide have been reported. Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been questioned to answer for heinous crimes by the military which includes brutal gang rapes, killings of infants and arson.
Australia’s expectations from the summit
So many right-wing groups have urged the government to raise these issues at the summit. Australia holds the golden chance of ushering in a change by addressing these matters. Being in a position of great influence, it wishes to focus on the upholding of human rights. Australia has no intention of being a part of ASEAN. It only seeks to establish a stronger bond with its regional neighbours. It intends to raise the grave issue of human rights violation in the region. Even though the main agenda is to expand trade and business and to thwart terrorist activities, the Australian government earnestly wants to throw light upon the abusive ways of these countries. It has the immense responsibility to look beyond its own diplomatic benefits in order to press matters of international concern.
It also plans upon checking the growing power of China through its increased connections with ASEAN. China’s growing supremacy in terms of defence and technology has been a matter of rising concern to the first world nations. The communist ways of China pose a threat to liberal-minded countries such as the US, UK and Australia. ASEAN acts as a check to China’s burgeoning growth and influence. It helps in maintaining a balance in the South East Asian Region. Despite China not being a part of ASEAN, the organisation exerts a considerable influence over its decisions as the two are members of the East Asia Summit. Australia also being a part of the East Asia Summit expects to fulfil the two main agendas of keeping China in check and of putting an end to institutions that threaten democracy at the 2018 Sydney Summit.
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