20 April, 2024
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ASEAN leaders gather in Melbourne for high-level talks


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Strengthening business connections and co-operation on maritime operations, climate change and clean energy are top of the agenda as leaders gather for the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne.

Newly elected President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos Jr, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh are among leaders from Southeast Asian nations attending the high-level talks hosted by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Mr Albanese, who will meet with the Malaysian prime minister on Monday, said it was an opportunity to work with regional neighbours to create jobs in Australia. 

“That’s what our international engagements are about – benefit for Australia in terms of our economy, but also in our uncertain world and national security interests as well,” he told reporters on Sunday.

 Anthony Albanese says the ASEAN bloc is Australia’s second-largest two-way trading partner. Image by Morgan Hancock/AAP PHOTOS 

The event is being held in Australia for the first time since 2018, offering leaders an opportunity to hold bilateral meetings on top of a packed program of panels and discussions across three days from Monday.

Security has been bolstered around the city and Victoria Police has applied for special powers under the Terrorism Act as a precaution, insisting there is no suggestion the event is the target of any specific threat.

ASEAN, an abbreviation for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is made up of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Singapore and Thailand.

Australia is not a formal member but has been a dialogue partner for the past 50 years. 

Timor-Leste will also observe the summit.

Mr Albanese said ASEAN was Australia’s second largest two-way trading partner when viewed as a bloc and noted more than one million Australians have Southeast Asian heritage.

Australia’s priorities for the meeting are to strengthen co-operation on maritime operations and climate and energy, to support emerging leaders and to boost business activities such as trade and investment.

“The Special Summit commemorates our shared history and focuses firmly on the future – on how we can deepen our ties and Australia’s engagement with our region,” Mr Albanese said.

“Australia sees ASEAN at the centre of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous region. 

“Strengthening our relationship ensures our shared future prosperity and security.”

 Australia is not a formal member of ASEAN but has been a dialogue partner for the past 50 years. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

Mr Albanese is due to meet privately with the leaders of 10 nations in addition to events held in public.

Monash University senior politics lecturer Zareh Ghazarian said the conference came at a significant time for Australia, particularly following the AUKUS agreement with Britain and the United States.

“It’s an important moment where Australia can consolidate those strong links with ASEAN countries,” Mr Ghazarian told AAP.

He said it was also a politically important moment for Mr Albanese, whose recent focus has been on domestic issues including the Dunkley by-election.

“This could be a very good circuit breaker for Anthony Albanese in terms of domestic politics as well,” Mr Ghazarian said.

“This gives him an opportunity to take a break from local politics and to focus on international politics and in doing so, remind the electorate that Labor’s in government and looking at advancing Australia’s interests internationally.”

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