ASEAN-Australia Special Summit: A Pivotal Gathering Amidst Geopolitical Tensions

Last Updated on March 4, 2024 1:19 pm

As leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) convene in Melbourne for the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, the backdrop of an increasingly assertive China and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar is set to dominate discussions.

The summit, commemorating 50 years since Australia’s partnership with ASEAN, brings together leaders from nine of the 10 ASEAN member nations. Notably absent from political representation is Myanmar, facing exclusion due to its failure to address the violence since the military junta seized control in 2021.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, emphasizing the significance of the relationship, stated, “Australia sees ASEAN at the centre of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous region.” Strengthening ties is seen as crucial for shared prosperity and security.

With China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and the violence in Myanmar, the agenda encompasses maritime cooperation, economic ties, climate change, and clean energy. The 2018 summit in Sydney addressed the South China Sea issue, calling for a code of conduct in the contested waters.

China’s assertive stance in the South China Sea and the crisis in Myanmar were central in the January meeting of ASEAN diplomats. However, analysts suggest a unified approach toward China is challenging due to varying bilateral relationships among ASEAN members.

The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar adds complexity to ASEAN’s credibility, prompting questions about the organization’s purpose and its effectiveness in addressing internal crises.

While about 200 protesters outside the summit demanded the restoration of democracy in Myanmar, the official focus of the summit is on positive collaboration. The summit host, Australia, aims to emphasize maritime cooperation, economic collaboration, and addressing climate change.

Analysts anticipate leaders to concentrate on commonalities rather than differences, fostering a sense of excitement and momentum for positive collaboration in the region. ASEAN’s member nations include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, with a combined population exceeding 650 million and a GDP of over $3 trillion.

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