chapter  6
27 Pages

Australia and Asian institutional networks: Bilateral preferences, multilateral gains

ByJAMES COTTON

For their meeting in Vientiane in November 2004, the ASEAN nations invited Australia and New Zealand to participate in the Southeast Asian Leaders’ Summit to commemorate their thirty years as dialogue partners of the organisation. At the same time, negotiations (broken off by ASEAN in 2000) were resumed on an ASEAN-CER (Australia and New Zealand) trade arrangement. While in Vientiane, the ASEAN leaders resolved to establish an East Asian Summit (EAS) mechanism. In December 2005, Australia participated in the inauguration of the East Asian Meeting process with the attendance of then Prime Minister John Howard at the EAS in Kuala Lumpur. Yet this was the same Canberra administration that had expressed scepticism regarding the potential for Asian regionalism and that had long resisted taking the diplomatic steps which would make attendance in Kuala Lumpur possible. This chapter is concerned with the Australian approach to Asian region-

alism, and especially how it has changed in the last decade. Its main focus is official Australian policies towards ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the East Asian Summit as they were managed by the Howard government. It proceeds on the assumption that the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group is a transregional entity, though of course it is

noteworthy that successive Australian governments have foregrounded the organisation as an essential part of their regional diplomacy. The argument is that during the Howard-Downer era the government, reasoning from realist premises, remained somewhat sceptical of the various institutional and norm-oriented embodiments of ‘Asia’, and evinced a decided preference for bilateralism (initially economic, but later strategic bilateralism). Nevertheless, it was prepared to make some contribution to the improvement of regional governance practices, despite such measures challenging the conventional realist view of state sovereignty. In the context of the continuing economic and strategic rise of China, and despite taking great trouble to facilitate mutually beneficial trading relations, the Howard government also oversaw the progressive institutionalisation of defence cooperation with Japan. Given the relentless impact of globalisation and the domestic change of federal government, it remains to be seen whether all of these foreign policies priorities will remain unaltered.