Monday 27 Jun 2022 | 12:55 | SYDNEY
Monday 27 Jun 2022 | 12:55 | SYDNEY


Malcolm Cook

4 December 2007 15:03

FROM: Malcolm Cook, Asia and the Pacific Program Director, Lowy Institute

TO: Hon. Stephen Smith, Minister for Foreign Affairs

Congratulations on becoming Australia’s new Foreign Minister, especially during such an exciting and challenging period when the contours and power relations in East Asia are rapidly changing, as is the nature and global role of our nearest Asian neighbour, Indonesia. Timing is important in foreign policy and the Australia’s election date was not fortuitous, especially given the change in government. It meant that you missed the East Asia Summit, which hopefully will play a larger and more central role in Australian foreign policy and East Asian integration.  

Missing the East Asia Summit is particularly bad timing, as this newest of regional inter-state bodies holds great potential for Australia for three reasons which justify a concerted effort on Australia's part to entrench this new body, despite China’s determined lack of interest in the Summit and the Asia-Pacific’s proliferation of regional bodies all greater on process and rhetoric than on action.

First, the East Asia Summit is the only exclusively East Asian body that includes Australia, making it a concrete basis for our deeper integration into East Asia. The membership of the Summit’s would-be rival, the ASEAN-3 process, is fixed and excludes Australia. An East Asia Summit-based FTA including Australia would boost Australia’s annual GDP by an estimated 1.4% (more room for tax cuts). An ASEAN-3 FTA excluding Australia would represent a minor reduction to our economy, while helping to shut us out of our most important export markets. Australia exports a greater share of its total exports to Northeast Asia than any of the three Northeast Asia major economies – Japan, China and South Korea – do. 

Second, the most important single element of the East Asia Summit may be the fact that it includes India, Asia’s newest and second largest awakening giant. Relations with India will become more important for all countries as its economy continues to grow and its foreign policy moves away from the constraints of Bandung and the Non-Aligned Movement. For Australia, involving the world’s largest parliamentary democracy in East Asian deliberations has important strategic benefits beyond India's potential as a source for uranium exports. It would provide greater external support for India’s continued economic liberalization, something that would be close to impossible for Australia to achieve bilaterally. The East Asia Summit also provides a good forum for the smaller countries in East Asia to gain a better understanding of  and say in the future of the China-Japan rivalry and also the potential China-India rivalry. A future East Asia that includes India is likely to be a better one for Australia than one that excludes it. 

Finally, the East Asia Summit, along with APEC and the G-20, provide very good fora for Australia and Indonesia to strengthen their bilateral relationship by focusing on common regional and global interests rather than on narrower bilateral concerns that often revolve around issues that divide the two countries. Indonesia’s democratization makes closer relations between Canberra and Jakarta much more palatable, while Indonesia’s role at the centre of Southeast Asia and as a strong supporter of Australia in East Asia makes closer relations a no-brainer for Canberra. Indonesia, along with Japan and Singapore, were strong supporters of inviting Australia to join the East Asia Summit in 2005. This year the East Asia Summit, like APEC in Sydney, chose to focus on regional approaches to climate change. This is a strong platform to build closer relations between Canberra and Jakarta on common regional and global positions and build on the burgeoning bilateral agenda on climate change and deforestation.  

The new Labor Government should retain its strong support for East Asian regionalism and strongly support the East Asia Summit.