AsiaLink conversations: Key note address 'Friends and neighbours: Australia, Japan and ASEAN' Hiroshima

  • Speech, E&OE

Distinguished guests, friends of Australia, friends of Japan. Ambassadors, and my parliamentary colleague all the way from Victoria Senator Bridget McKenzie. I am delighted to see you here today.

Australia has significant global interests – but the new Government in Australia is unmistakably focusing our foreign policy assets on our region – our friends and neighbours.

The meeting this week between Prime Ministers Abe and Abbott, during which they resolved the final issues in our seven-year long trade negotiation, takes us back to the meeting between Prime Ministers Menzies and Kishi in April 1957 ahead of the historic Commerce Agreement signed in July of that year.

In fact, 57 years ago to this very day, Prime Minister Menzies landed at Haneda airport for the first visit of an Australian Prime Minister after the Peace Treaty of 1951.

The record of the joint press conference held by Prime Ministers Kishi and Menzies is remarkable for its candor with its expressed desire for mutual understanding and cooperation as diplomatic and trade partners. And this was at a time when memories and emotions were still raw.

That prime ministerial exchange not only brought about the final resolution of a landmark commerce deal 3 months later, but lay the foundation for our contemporary relationship.

The symbolism this week of Australia's Prime Minister and Japan's Prime Minister – the grandson of Prime Minister Kishi – giving a joint press conference to announce another historic achievement with a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement is profound.

The Australia-Japan friendship has been a positive and comprehensive economic, political, cultural and strategic partnership that has not only been mutually beneficial but has had an impact on our region more generally.

Today I will focus my remarks on our partnerships' positive contribution to our region, particularly on the stability and rising prosperity among our friends and neighbours in Southeast Asia.

We are not alone – for all the major players share these goals for our region.

Ours is a diverse region and we share a critical interest in the region's success.

The 10 member states of ASEAN and its relations with its dialogue partners have been critical to building a strong dynamic and resilient regional community.

A current example of this reality is the response to the tragic circumstances surrounding Malaysia Airlines flight 370 – and I acknowledge the presence of His Royal Highness, Raja Nazrin Shah, the Regent of Perak.

This event has a mammoth human dimension. For over a month the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew aboard that plane have lived with unimagined anguish and distress as the search for the missing plane has captured global attention.

The international search, with its twists and turns, has covered a vast area of the Earth: from the South China Sea to the northern and now southern Indian Ocean.

We have already learned much from this effort.

Military and civil aircraft from Malaysia, China, Australia, Japan, the United States, New Zealand, and South Korea have been deployed to scour the oceans.

Merchant and military vessels from China, and Australia, expertise and resources from the United Kingdom and others, all amounts to a remarkable demonstration of how nations can collaborate – quick, immediate and hopefully effective, to help address a challenge that is beyond the resources of any one nation.

This collaboration builds from the habits of cooperation that countries in our region have long worked to foster. And Australia and Japan have long understood the importance of the area that lies between us, Southeast Asia.

Forty years ago, in 1974, Australia signed up as the first formal dialogue partner to ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), some seven years after its formation in 1967 as a group of then 5 member states with common regional interests.

Japan, a year earlier than Australia, formally began its engagement with ASEAN through informal dialogue relations.

From these early days, both our nations saw in ASEAN a logical partner for our region. Subsequently others recognised its importance – and China, Canada, the European Union, India, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia, and the United States became dialogue partners.

As an institution, ASEAN embodied Southeast Asia's evolving sense of regionalism, underlining to Australia that our key neighbours shared our interest in peace as a foundation of new prosperity – priorities that would later be set out in the ASEAN Charter.

Respect for each other, for sovereignty, for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Respect for diversity, regional cohesion, and collective responsibility.

Enhancing regional peace, security and prosperity.

From the mid-1960s, our two countries embraced the importance of the development of Southeast Asia. During this period, Australia supported Japan's diplomatic renaissance in the region, later articulated in the Fukuda Doctrine of 1977.

For example, Japan worked to establish the Asian Development Bank in 1966 as a vital mechanism for driving economic advancement and growth.

And we supported that vision. Australia has always provided support – for its establishment and beyond. In its most recent replenishment, Australia was the second largest contributor to the Asian Development Fund – after Japan – ours was a $629 million commitment.

Overall our contribution has been around $9.5 billion in capital contributions. Japan's total as lead contributor is around $25.5 billion.

Interestingly, the very first economic study carried out by the Asian Development Bank in 1968 was a commission from the newly formed ASEAN and its foreign ministers.

Australia was one of the first countries to provide aid to ASEAN as a group, in addition to the bilateral assistance provided to individual Southeast Asian nations.

In 1976, our two countries both contributed to the Second Nam Ngum Development Fund, a project administered by the Asian Development Bank, working to increase reservoir capacity and electricity production in Laos.

In 1982, both Australia and Japan made major humanitarian contributions in response to the plight of Indo-Chinese refugees. Japan focused on financial support, while Australia was a major resettlement country.

We both made significant contributions to the Cambodian peace process in the early 1990s. Yasushi Akashi served as Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Chief of Mission of UNTAC (the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia).

Australia's Lieutenant General John Sanderson commanded the military component of UNTAC, to which both Japan and Australia provided military and civilian personnel.

Both our nations also gave important financial support to the region during the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s.

Japan and Australia were the only two countries to contribute to all three IMF packages for South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia.

Japan and Australia worked together on Timor Leste's journey towards independence – and subsequently.

Japan contributed US$100 million to the Australian-led UN endorsed peacekeeping effort to restore stability after the historic vote for independence in 1999.

And Japan contributed personnel to the UN mission from the year 2000.

Similarly, in 2004, Japan and Australia both provided recovery and reconstruction support after the Boxing Day tsunami in Indonesia and across the region.

Our joint cooperation and support has been a model.

Of course we've stood by each other too – and Australia was there for Japan as you struggled with the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

In a demonstration of your resilience and commitment, at the same time as Japan's disaster struck, you were co-sponsor of the ASEAN Regional Forum Disaster Relief Exercise in Indonesia, and you maintained a significant contribution to that exercise.

And Japan has responded generously to the fires, floods and natural disasters that have struck Australia over the years.

In November of 2013, Australia and Japan both provided strong and swift humanitarian assistance to the Philippines following Super Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda as it was known locally.

We backed each other in our efforts to support our mutual friend in the Philippines. Australia provided airlift support to Japanese personnel.

And I recall very clearly a cold Sunday morning last December, when Defence Minister Onodera and I met on the tarmac at an airfield near Manila as our respective C130 aeroplanes were filled with humanitarian workers and supplies – our planes side by side ready to deploy to the disaster area around Tacloban – a practical example of our defence cooperation as a force for good in the region.

Japan refuelled one of our Navy vessels at that time under the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement that had come into force last year, and which underpins the logistics of our defence engagement.

Beyond our disaster relief, our countries have also understood that the success of our region depended on building stronger regional institutions.

Japan and Australia were both central to the establishment of APEC to which Japan gave strong leadership in 1995 implementing the Bogor goals of open trade and investment throughout the region, and hosting APEC in both 1995 and 2010. Australia hosted the APEC Leaders' Summit in Sydney in 2007.

We were founding members of the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1994.

Japan was a strong supporter of our participation in the East Asia Summit, now considered the premiere regional forum.

For many decades, we've both supported continued and deeper United States engagement with Asia.

This has been a vital ingredient in the stability and security of our region - and remains so today, which is why we both supported the inclusion of the United States in the East Asia Summit.

Both our nations have strong alliances with the United States – and we both support the United States' rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.

We have a similar approach to our respective partnerships with ASEAN.

We have similar development co-operation programs: mature, substantial, partnership-based.

We are both engaged in supporting economic integration and ASEAN institution building –

  • strengthening the ASEAN Secretariat;
  • ;supporting the ASEAN Co-coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management;
  • and the Economic Research Institute of ASEAN and East Asia.

In 2014, the partnerships that we have with Southeast Asia extend from development to strategic and defence engagement, trade, business and investment, and education.

It is undeniable that over the past several decades, global economic weight has shifted to Asia – not only Japan, Korea and China, but through the economic transformation of Southeast Asian economies.

Ours is an increasingly prosperous and dynamic region, in which the links between nations are stronger than ever.

Our citizens are increasingly mobile – creating a real sense of integration, through student exchanges, tourism, through business. Together with economic prosperity, health and educational standards in Southeast Asia have improved.

Within a few years, countries including Indonesia, will enter the ranks of the top economies in the world.

While there are challenges aplenty, poverty has been tackled across our region, and the living standards of hundreds of millions of people have improved.

There is greater freedom, a greater embrace of democracy and rule of law – values that Australia and Japan hold dear.

ASEAN's move towards an ASEAN community in 2015 is as welcome as it is historic.

For vibrant democracies and open liberal economies like Australia and Japan, the realisation by ASEAN of a more integrated community founded on common values is unquestionably good news.

Not only does it help advance shared values in the region, it strengthens prosperity and reflects an enduring regional community.

Today, Japan and Australia are the most natural of partners.

We work together in the United Nations, the G20 – and Japan is supporting Australia in its chairmanship this November in Brisbane – in the East Asian Summit, with APEC, with ASEAN. Bilaterally, trilaterally, plurilaterally, multilaterally.

Notwithstanding what we have achieved together after 40 years as dialogue partners with ASEAN, it is now time to further strengthen our engagement.

We welcome Japan's efforts in building on its engagement with ASEAN during its 40th anniversary celebrations last year, including Prime Minister Abe's visit to all ten ASEAN countries, before hosting a Japan-ASEAN summit in Tokyo in December. There has been important work on maritime security, economic integration and youth connections.

And we are doing the same this year as we step up our engagement ahead of our 40th anniversary commemorative summit in November. I also intend to visit each of the 10 member nations before that event – I am almost there, I have visited some on a number of occasions since I was appointed Foreign Minister last September.

Australia envisages a broader, deeper relationship with ASEAN across political and security, economic, and people-to-people cooperation. And to that end, I have also appointed an Ambassador for ASEAN, Mr Simon Merrifield who is here today and doing a mighty fine job.

We are building on our shared ambition for regional economic integration, we are committed to an open, liberal, rules-based regional order.

The challenges our region faces, including perhaps the thorniest – territorial and maritime disputes – must only be settled in accordance with international law, without resort to coercion or force.

That principle is vital for continued regional peace and prosperity.

And we want to work with ASEAN to strengthen the key regional institutions, particularly the East Asia Summit. But we believe the East Asia Summit should be the key regional forum for discussing all of our regional strategic issues – security, trade and financial.

It has the right membership and the right mandate to do this, and we will work closely with Japan and others to make this a reality.

As Australia's Foreign Minister, I have focussed on what I call "economic diplomacy". Just as traditional diplomacy aims for peace, economic diplomacy aims for peace and prosperity.

Through economic diplomacy we recognise the critical importance of growth, of trade, business and investment, of productivity enhancing infrastructure in delivering more prosperity to our nations and our region.

Making our economies stronger, making it easier for us to work together, easier to do business – will be of benefit to our societies more broadly.

The architecture framed through the ASEAN Economic Community, the ASEAN–Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement for example, and now the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership – will enhance the economic welfare of all parties.

The conclusion this week of our negotiations on the Australia-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement was a big step.

And the two key regional trade negotiations currently underway – the TPP and RCEP – offer the prospect, combined, of realising a free trade area for the Asia Pacific in a way that brings benefits to millions and millions of people.

Australia's engagement in the region will find further expression in what we call our New Colombo Plan – this is a plan building on the spirit of the original Colombo Plan in the 1950s and 60s which saw thousands of students come to Australia to study in our universities – about 40,000 students over 30 years.

But now, it is beyond time, that this was complemented with a reverse plan. And Australia will send thousands of our young students to study and learn in universities and undertake internships in businesses across the region – it will be our signature policy for engagement in the region.

We want generations of young Australians to become Asia literate – to live, study and work in the region, to learn Asian languages, become immersed in the culture, the politics, the life of Asian countries. And return to Australia with new perspectives, new insights and networks and friendships that will last a lifetime.

This year, Japan is a pilot location for the New Colombo Plan, along with Singapore, Indonesia and Hong Kong, and already 150 students are in Japan under the scheme for this first semester with more on the way.

It is worth noting that Australia is the fourth in the world when it comes to Japanese language studies – 275,000 Australian students from primary to tertiary – I think that reflects our very strong educational base upon which to found a New Colombo Plan.

We cooperate in defence, in space and maritime security, and, as our Prime Ministers announced earlier this week, we will shortly establish a dialogue on cyber security.

Prime Minister Abbott was the first foreign leader to attend a meeting of Japan's new National Security Council – a sure sign of the levels of trust and transparency that exist between us.

We are of course also long-term partners in fighting nuclear proliferation, the very reason I am here in Hiroshima today as cofounders – Japan and Australia – of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative which will be meeting today and tomorrow.

Ladies and gentlemen, Australia, Japan, and the nations of Southeast Asia share a common aspiration for our future – that we continue to develop the region as peaceful, stable, and prosperous.

ASEAN is a vital partner in that effort.

It shares so much with Australia and Japan – a commitment to transparency, openness, mutual respect and progress.

Our challenge is to build on how far we've come over the past forty years of engagement with Southeast Asia. And to recognise how much more effort we have to put in, if we are to achieve our goals.

Intense co-operation will be vital – the sort of co-operation we have seen come to the fore in the context of Malaysia Airlines 370.

We must be measured and mature in responding to challenges and we must build on habits of consultation – as the Australian government likes to call it – a "no surprises" policy – that will frame our peace and prosperity.

I thank Peter Yates, Jenny McGregor from Asialink for hosting this event and for the work it does more broadly to build support for ASEAN-Australia relations.

Working regionally with Japan is a growing part of our bilateral relationship – for the benefit of not only our two countries, but for our friends and neighbours.

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