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Expanding ASEAN: an idea worth burying

By Duncan Graham - posted Monday, 16 April 2018


So far, other members have not responded to Jokowi's rubbery response, though former Malaysian PM Mahatir Mohamad, in another Fairfax interview, thought Australia in ASEAN might happen one day when Australia becomes 'more Asian than European.'

About 12 per cent of Australians have Asian ancestry; however ethnicity is no guarantee of enthusiasm to recouple with the nation they fled.

Cambodian PM Hun Sen was apparently unaware that in Australia violence leads to prosecution, however important the perpetrator. He respected his hosts by threatening to 'beat' those protesting against his presence at the summit. They still waved their banners and shouted slogans, grateful they're not in Phnom Penh.

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There's also no public enthusiasm. A Twitter straw poll has shown Indonesians and Australians averse to the idea of Australia in ASEAN. This isn't surprising; despite all the goodwill statements at government level, Mohammad and Sri in their Jakarta kampong are just as wary of their neighbour as Myrtle and Sam are in a Sydney suburb.

So what's behind the Oz in ASEAN push? Dobell reasons that 'as the geostrategic and geo-economic pressures build in Asia, ASEAN, as a middle-power grouping, needs the extra middle-power heft offered by Australiaand NZ.

This would make sense if foreign affairs were conducted by white-coated social scientists in an isolated lab sealed off from outside germs.

But in a world where strategic groupings are subject to political realities infected by different histories, cultures, perceptions and ideologies, Australia in ASEAN is a dead duck. It just needs a quiet burial with no marker.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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