Abbott in Naypyitaw

ASEAN-Australia 40th Anniversary Commemorative Summit

Wednesday 12 November, Sapphire Hall, Level 2, Myanmar International Convention Centre-1, Naypyitaw

Attendance: ASEAN Heads of State/Government +9; Australia Head of Government +9; ASEAN Secretary General +9

In his speech, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott highlighted the fact that trade between ASEAN countries and Australia today is eighty times larger than it was forty years ago. Furthermore, two-way investment is $155 billion dollars. Today, one million people visit Australia every year from ASEAN countries, and 2.5 million Australian’s visit ASEAN countries every year. More than 100,000 students from ASEAN countries study in Australia every year. According to Abbot this is a sign of the strength of the relationship between Australia and the nations of ASEAN.

Abbott observed the weight ASEAN countries now have. For example, Malaysia is on the verge of becoming a high-income country. Indonesia is on its way to being a democratic superpower of Asia and Singapore’s GDP per head is higher than Australia’s. These ‘indisputable facts’ are a tribute to the work which ASEAN countries have done. Abbott sees Australia as having played its part to advance the region. Abbott made mention that Australia will set up an ASEAN-Australia Council, which seeks to work on people-to-people, institution-to-institution and business-to-business links in Asia. Furthermore, Australia will establish a Mekong business initiative, which seeks to develop small businesses in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Abbott hopes ASEAN countries are now aware of the New Colombo Plan, where students from Australia are going to the region to compliment the flow of students from Southeast Asia to Australia.

Abbott also noted that the success of ASEAN over the last forty years has been one of the ‘great stories of human progress’. While economically, so much has taken place, there cannot be prosperity without security. Abbott is pleased Australia has been a security partner as well as an economic partner for so many ASEAN countries. Abbott hopes that over time, Australia has been an increasingly trusted partner, which is ‘characteristic’ of Australia. Abbott noted that ‘when Australia says something, Australia means it. When Australia makes a commitment, Australia keeps it’. When this is not the case, Abbott hopes ASEAN countries tell him. He hopes Australia can be the ‘very best’ as a partner with countries in ASEAN. Abbott’s objective, as Australia’s prime minster, is ‘to do everything I can to ensure the region is economically dynamic and harmonious’.

Olivia Cable is a graduate student in from the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University. She is currently in Naypyitaw for the ASEAN Summit. Contact: [email protected] and Twitter @ojcable