Australia’s wealth in the Indo-Pacific is in Biden’s hands – archyde

Autor: Susannah Patton, United States Studies Center

Australia and China have both achieved diplomatic successes in Southeast Asia this year, notably through the region’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Both Canberra and Beijing have had their relations with ASEAN on ‘comprehensive strategic partnership“Which shows that the association sees both Australia and China as valued partners.

ASEAN wants balance – closer relations with China, but also with other countries. It is strange that Australia, and not the USA, is the counterweight to China.

The fact that US-ASEAN relations are lagging should worry Canberra. For the past 30 years, Australia has seen regional multilateral institutions like ASEAN, the East Asia Summit and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) as ways to anchor the United States in Asia.

Australia has made high profile achievements on this front, helping to establish APEC in the early 1990s and helping to expand the East Asia Summit to the United States in 2010. But in 2021 that strategy looks shaky. Former US President Donald Trump neglected multilateralism in most forms and never attended the East Asia Summit. This gave China room to expand its own influence in regional forums and empower closer groups that do not include the United States or Australia.

President Biden made up for his predecessor’s worst neglect. Despite a slow start, US officials have appeared at all key meetings in 2021, backed by an ASEAN decision Exclude Myanmar’s coup plotters from this year’s summits.

Even so, the Biden government has not made ASEAN a priority in its foreign policy. Instead, the Biden team seems to see more circumscribed groups of like-minded countries, such as: Quad (including the United States, Australia, India and Japan) than more ‘Result-oriented‘.

The trend towards closer “minilateralism” inevitably diverts attention from more inclusive groups and is the result of growing strategic competition. As the rivalry between the US and China intensifies and relations between China and the Quad countries have grown dull, hopes for real political dialogue or security cooperation between the various countries in the region have faded.

The US’s lack of interest in further regional trade liberalization has also accelerated this trend. The Biden administration is now hoping to ‘Indo-Pacific Economic Framework“To compensate for his exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact. Since cooperation with China on this framework, for example via APEC, is unlikely, this could further fragment the integrative architecture of the region.

Working through flexible ad hoc groups – since recently described Called “lattice work” by Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan – has advantages. It’s easier to reach consensus and demonstrate strategic direction. It is important that groups like Quad China show that it will not set the regional agenda on its own. In comparison, ASEAN is slow and undemanding. Its meetings are largely formulaic and script-driven.

For Australia, however, this small club trend is not all positive.

If the US does not invest enough energy and new ideas in its relationship with ASEAN, it will lose influence in Southeast Asia. A deep and substantial commitment to ASEAN gives Washington the opportunity to present itself as a constructive regional partner and to maintain its own influence. President Obama has done this effectively. For example, he helped catalyze Southeast Asian countries to speak out on maritime security issues – and dismissed China’s claim that “outside” countries should not be included.

As ASEAN brings together all countries big and small, meetings with it are an opportunity for Washington to show its interest in all Southeast Asian countries, whether or not they support its approach to China.

If the United States and others fail to energize the East Asia Summit, there is a risk that alternative, closer groupings will gain influence. During the response to COVID-19, “ASEAN + 3,” a group that includes Southeast Asian countries, Japan, South Korea and China, was more active than the broader East Asia Summit.

China has also established its own new institutions with regional countries, from which external countries are excluded. Australia has long worked to avoid the exclusive East Asian regionalism proposed by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in the 1990s. The growth of these exclusive forums would diminish Canberra’s voice on regional issues and could result in Australia being excluded from future economic or trade initiatives.

President Biden has invited ASEAN leaders to a special summit in 2022. That’s positive. Australia should urge the United States to use this as an opportunity to improve its own relationship with ASEAN and announce a new flagship initiative by ASEAN on a relevant issue such as energy cooperation.

The United States should ensure that its new Indo-Pacific economic framework does not further undermine existing regional institutions. In all of this, Washington should seek to give more substance to its relationship with the group’s de facto leader, Indonesia, who led the important year 2019.ASEAN outlook for the Indo-Pacific‘.

Australia should be pleased that its relationship with ASEAN is thriving. But only a flourishing US-ASEAN relationship can help secure the future of inclusive regional institutions in which all countries still have a say.

Susannah Patton is a Research Fellow in the Foreign Policy and Defense Program at the United States Studies Center and author of the new report A Seat at the Table: The Role of Regional Multilateral Institutions in the US Indo-Pacific Strategy.


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