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Amid great power rivalry, closer Asean-Australia ties will preserve peace and stability in S-E Asia

MELBOURNE (The Straits Times/ANN) -- Australia is well positioned to support Asean’s efforts to maintain regional peace and stability as the great power rivalry between the United States and China plays out in South-east Asia, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on March 6.

PM Lee Hsien Loong (third from left) and other Asean leaders, as well as Australian PM Anthony Albanese (sixth from right), at the Asean-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne on March 6.                                          --Photo Kua Chee Siong/ST

“Both Australia and Asean are doing our best to preserve regional peace and stability because we know full well that conflict in the region would affect us directly, and undermine the progress and development that has taken us decades to achieve,” he said.
In a speech during the Asean-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne, he said major countries are actively making moves and growing their influence in the region.
Individual countries are in turn positioning themselves in the hope of gaining benefit or to avoid being “caught in between”.
“But despite different strategic situations and perspectives, regional countries all share an interest in the peace and prosperity of South-east Asia and the broader Asia-Pacific region,” said PM Lee.
Touching on the different relationships that Asean members or partners have with the major powers, he said that some are treaty allies of the US, while others are more closely aligned with China due to strategic situations or historical developments.
Others, like Singapore, do their best to remain “good friends” with both major powers.
“In fact, this has been Asean’s longstanding aim: to expand areas of commonality while acknowledging our differences,” PM Lee added.
As Australia has longstanding ties in South-east Asia, all regional countries accept it as an Asian power, he said, noting that the Melbourne summit – which marked 50 years of relations between the partners – was a show of Australia’s clear commitment to Asean that has been consistent through successive Australian administrations.
Speaking to Singapore’s media shortly after the end of the summit, PM Lee said Australia had always been a country with deep and vested interests in the region, with ties in areas like trade and security.
“It affects their security because if anything goes wrong in South-east Asia or Asia, that’s going to impact on Australia. And it’s an area where a lot of their trade goes through,” he said, adding that the region has benefited from Australian involvement dating back to World War II.
Australia has had a relationship with Asean since 1974 and is the bloc’s first and oldest dialogue partner.
In the same vein, Asean-led mechanisms, such as the Asean Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit, were set up “precisely” for the purpose of dialogue and cooperation with major powers that have interests in the region, PM Lee said.
Highlighting the East Asia Summit – a forum where the heads of states and governments of all key partners meet to discuss political, security and economic challenges facing the Indo-Pacific – he said Australia should work with Asean to boost the effectiveness of the annual gathering.

(Latest Update March 8, 2024)

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