In March this year, ten leaders of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states and the Secretary-General of ASEAN met in Sydney for the historic ASEAN-Australia Special Summit. It was one of the largest gatherings of Asia’s leaders in Australian diplomatic history, and the first time Australia hosted such a forum on its shores.
It was in essence a culmination of decades of intensive economic, diplomatic and people-to-people engagement between ASEAN and Australia. Since 1974, when Australia became ASEAN’s first dialogue partner, our engagement with ASEAN has been based on shared values of rules-based order, economic connectivity and openness. These values underpin a breadth and depth of our relationship. Trade with ASEAN represents 15% of Australia’s total trade, making the block one of our top three trading partners. Australia is currently educating around 100,000 students and welcomes over one million visitors from ASEAN each year. Over 896,000 Australians identified their heritage from ASEAN nations in the 2016 Census.
The Special Summit was an opportunity to take stock of our cooperation, but also to take our partnership forward in this age of disruption and interdependence. Our shared region – Asia – continues to be a centre of economic dynamism presenting significant trade, investment and economic development opportunities for Australia and ASEAN. It is also the region that is increasingly contested strategically and more competitive economically, with the rise of China and India, territorial disputes, North Korea’s nuclear threat, US-China competition and old animosities and new disruptions caused by the digital revolution, forced migration and rival visions for the region’s strategic and economic order.
Asia Society was pleased to support and contribute to the Special Summit. It is a privilege to share with you our special ASEAN edition of our thought-leadership series Disruptive Asia.
Asia is changing rapidly. How well we – as a nation within it – grasp the nature of these changes will be largely dependent on how well we know and how comprehensively we interact with our neighbours to the north.
In the best tradition of the series, Disruptive Asia’s ASEAN edition explores multiple dimensions of Australia’s engagement with South East Asia – from defence and security, forced migration and economic connectivity to our own linguistic and cultural competencies to interact with this diverse region. This edition gives voice to both experienced and emerging experts, many of whom will lead our national Asia debate in the near future.
Chief Executive Officer
Asia Society Australia