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IR Working Paper 1997/8 (PDF, 2.50MB)
In the thirty years since the creation of ASEAN, the relations between Southeast Asia and Australia have changed dramatically. Nowhere is this more evident than in the economic sphere. The sustained rapid economic growth of most ASEAN countries in the following three decades has ensured that Australia's relative economic importance to the region€”as a market, a source of investment, or a source of development assistance€”has declined significantly. Australia's share in ASEAN's exports has shrunk to 2 per cent. In contrast, the ASEAN share of Australia's total exports has more than doubled in the past thirty years. ASEAN's new importance to Australia stems not only from the region's economic growth but also from Canberra's efforts to reorient Australian foreign, defence, and trade policies towards the Asia-Pacific region in general and East Asia in particular. The advent of the Hawke Labor government heralded a new era of relations between Australia and ASEAN that was characterised by a substantial broadening of the agenda for co-operation, and a new coincidence of interests, for example, in the promotion of global trade liberalisation but also new sources of tension as both ASEAN and Australia pursued more activist foreign policies. By placing emphasis on 'open regionalism' and 'co-ordinated unilateralism' as the key principles for APEC, the Australian government has, with the brief exception of a period of wavering in the first half of 1995, supported ASEAN's consensual, gradualist approach to economic cooperation. If Australian governments have moved towards adopting the ASEAN way in their diplomacy with their Southeast Asian neighbours, ASEAN states at times have shown little reciprocity or, indeed, public understanding of the constraints under which Australian governments operate in, for instance, their relations with Australian media.