Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
The ASEAN Regional Forum: building trust and confidence in the Asia Pacific: address to the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Intersessional Support Group on confidence-building measures, Sydney

Download PDFDownload PDF

[speech title] Page 1 o f 6


The ASEAN Regional Forum: Building Trust and Confidence in the Asia Pacific

Speech by the Hon Alexander Downer, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Intersessional Support Group on Confidence-Building Measures, Sydney, 4 March 1998.


I am delighted to be here, and to have the opportunity to speak to you tonight.

Australia is very pleased to have been able to join with Brunei in co-chairing the 1997-98 meetings of the Intersessional Support Group on Confidence-Building Measures (ISG on CBMs). There is no more appropriate location to hold this meeting than Sydney - in many respects a hub for Australia's extensive engagement with the Asia Pacific.

I understand your meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan last year was a success. I want to thank our Bruneian co-chairs for their major contribution to that outcome and for their warm hospitality which contributed so much to the good atmosphere of that meeting.

Some of you may recall that Australia hosted the first ever ARF intersessional activity - a second track CBMs meeting held in Canberra in November 1994.

But this is the first time Australia has co-chaired an official ARF activity.

This demonstrates Australia's strong and enduring commitment to the ARF. The ARF continues to enjoy impressive success in giving practical expression to an emerging common interest among regional countries in promoting stability and security.

I want to pay special tribute to the role that ASEAN played in bringing the ARF into being, and in imparting to the Forum the extensive ASEAN experience of managing relations between regional countries.

Australia is particularly pleased to be hosting this meeting because we see it as the core ARF intersessional activity.

Within the ARF process, the ISG on CBMs is a group that is showing considerable potential to achieve practical and cooperative outcomes and initiatives.

I appreciate you are working on providing an overview for Ministers of how ARF countries are faring in the implementation of confidence building measures agreed to over the past three or four years. This will show that we have already achieved a great deal:

- ARF countries across the region are developing a range of regional, sub-regional and bilateral exchanges on regional security perceptions. Australia has been particularly active in this area - but more on that later;

- high-level defence contacts have also been expanding rapidly,

- as have defence training and defence exchanges; 21/04/1998

[speech title] Page 2 o f 6

- ARF participation in the United Nations Conventional Arms Register is high and many ARF countries circulate their returns to each other;

- participation in the key global non-proliferation and disarmament regimes is strong;

- the number of ARF countries publishing Defence White Papers has steadily increased, as has the number of countries submitting an annual defence policy statement to the ARF;

- a meeting of heads of National Defence Colleges has been convened;

- and there has been cooperation in the area of disaster relief.

Of course, the ISG is a valuable confidence-building measure in its own right because it provides a highly respected forum for senior defence and foreign affairs officials from across the Asia Pacific to come together and exchange views on key regional security issues.

Every intersessional year, participants in the ISG have the opportunity to discuss developments in the regional security environment and to enhance transparency in the region through an exchange of views on defence policies and approaches.

The ISG is also the principal mechanism whereby military officers and defence civilians are integrated into the ARF process - a goal which Australia supports wholeheartedly.

But - before I speak more about the growing value of the ISG, and Australia's views on maintaining the momentum of the ARF agenda - 1 want to outline briefly Australia's broader perspective on the regional security environment, and the key challenges that lie ahead.

Part One: The Regional Security Outlook: Australia's Perspective

In August last year, the Australian Government released Australia's first ever Foreign and Trade Policy White Paper. It charted the way ahead for Australia's foreign and trade policy over the next ten to fifteen years.

And, in December last year, the Government released a companion document - Australia's Strategic Policy. It carried forward the White Paper's analysis of Australia's place in the regional and global environment to the level of Australia's strategic objectives, capability requirements and force structure priorities.

These two key documents found that the strategic situation in the Asia Pacific has become considerably more complex, particularly with the shift of the global strategic landscape away from the Cold War's bipolar balance.

They concluded that the rapid economic growth of recent decades was changing strategic relativities among regional countries, and that the uneven distribution of this growth among regional countries might exacerbate political, economic and cultural differences in ways which could create new sources of instability.

Several constraints were identified that could prevent the unprecedented rates of growth achieved in recent decades being sustained - for example, factors that might complicate the management of economic policy such as worsening current account deficits combined with high debt levels and weak and protected domestic financial sectors.

Nonetheless, the White Paper concluded that it was more likely than not that economic growth in most of the industrialising countries of East Asia will remain at high levels over the next fifteen years - an assessment endorsed by the strategic review. 21/04/1998

[speech title] Page 3 o f 6

Both documents made it clear that the changing relationships among the major powers - US, China, Japan and, in the longer term, India and Russia - will largely determine the nature of the Asia Pacific's strategic environment over the next decade and a half.

In that context, Australia believes that the United States' continuing engagement in the region is an important factor for regional stability. Australia sees its alliance with the United States as making a contribution to regional security.

Australia also believes that China's economic growth, with its attendant confidence and enhanced influence, will be the most important strategic development of the next fifteen years.

How China manages its economic growth and pursues its international objectives, and how other nations, particularly the United States and Japan, respond to China will be crucial issues over this period. For its part, Australia is committed to working with China both bilaterally and in regional

institutions as it engages more fully with its partners in the region.

Particularly welcome recent developments are the current strong commitments by both the United States and Japan to cooperating with China to ensure stability in the region - as evidenced in the positive results of last year's visits by President Jiang Zemin to the United States and Prime Minister Hashimoto to China. We were also pleased to see successful Presidential summit meetings held last year between Japan and Russia, Japan and China, and Russia and China.

Consistent with the practical policy strategies recommended by the White Paper and our strategic review, Australia has been extending the number of countries with which it has bilateral dialogues on regional security issues.

In 1996, we commenced political-military talks with Japan and the Republic of Korea. Last year we agreed to commence four new important bilateral regional security dialogues with the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and China; in China's case, adding to our existing disarmament talks; and in Thailand's case, adding to our established senior officials talks.

Our dialogue with Indonesia on regional security and arms control issues has now been running for four years, and we have regular contact with Malaysia and Singapore on security issues through our participation in Five Power Defence Arrangements.

In addition, following the Prime Minister's successful visit to China earlier in 1997, we commenced a regular dialogue between our defence agencies.

With the addition of our new dialogues, Australia now has bilateral security linkages, in one form or another, with most of the countries of the East Asia/Pacific region - adding further depth and substance to Australia's regional engagement.

Major developments in the region since the release of the White Paper and the strategic review - economic difficulties in East Asia and their wider political and social effects - serve to underline the importance of adopting practical regional approaches to regional issues.

The overall regional prognosis is for a slowdown in economic growth over the next 2-3 years with sustained growth resuming thereafter. The outlook in particular countries depends on the speed with which governments implement economic reforms.

Nonetheless, it is clear that significant adjustment stresses in East Asia are going to continue over the short to medium term. These stresses will have an impact on political and social developments across the region, with potential flow-on effects in the short term at least for stability and security, depending on events in particular countries.

http: //www.dfat. gov. au / pmb/speeches/fa_sp/arf4mar 9 8. html 21/04/1998

The region's economic crisis will test the solidarity of our regional institutions, but I believe they will be able to withstand the pressure, and emerge even stronger as a result of the experience.

The economic crisis may affect the pace of modernisation of defence capabilities in the region. This may give the ARF more time to ripen and mature, so that when economic growth and the pace of defence modernisation pick up again, the habits of transparency and sensitivity to the security needs and perceptions of others will have a positive influence on these processes.

This means it is all the more necessary to work together to understand and manage these questions.

It places even more importance on building an extensive web of relationships and mutual respect among the countries of the Asia Pacific, as the common regional interest in stability and security emerges more starkly than ever, and governments seek a return to prosperity with renewed urgency.

Australia is doing its part by lending a helping hand to our regional neighbours in this time of trouble - through our involvement in the three IMF packages, and through practical aid and assistance to individual countries to help alleviate the negative impacts of the crisis.

I believe that governments and regional institutions across the Asia Pacific are dealing courageously with the challenges that come with accelerated economic reform and structural change.

I want to emphasise that Australia remains strongly committed to the region, and we are confident about the region's long term future.

Part Two: The ASEAN Regional Forum - Maintaining the Momentum

That point leads me back to the pivotal role of the ASEAN Regional Forum - which is recognised and endorsed in the White Paper and Australia's Strategic Policy - and the enduring importance of your discussions here in Sydney.

In the relatively short period since its creation, the ARF has made remarkable progress.

It is now firmly established as the primary multilateral forum for dialogue on security issues in the Asia Pacific. This achievement is all the more noteworthy given the lack of a tradition of inclusive multilateral security dialogue in the Asia Pacific.

The ARF has made important strides in developing the habits of dialogue and cooperation which underpin trust and mutual respect in the region.

Importantly, the ARF is not avoiding the more sensitive security issues - progress has been made on defence-related CBMs, and on the involvement of defence practitioners in the ARF process.

Clearly, the ARF has influenced the way countries think about security and stability in our region.

It is encouraging the countries of the region to consider security issues in balanced, thoughtful and measured ways, and to take into account more fully the national interests and particular perspectives that each ARF member brings to the table.

The ARF is well placed to reduce the scope for misunderstandings through increased transparency, particularly in defence matters, establishing norms of behaviour between countries, and helping manage regional tensions.

Of course, while there is much to applaud in what the ARF has already accomplished, no regional

[speech title] Page 4 o f 6 21/04/1998

organisation - least of all one as path-breaking as the ARF - can afford to rest on its laurels or past achievements.

The ARF needs to keep moving forward in practical and effective ways, and ARF member states need to give close attention to fostering the ARF's forward-looking agenda. The positive momentum established by the ARF must be maintained, and given new energy.

I understand that in Brunei last November - and again here today - you have identified several new CBMs for the ARF to pursue. Clearly there is still much work for the ISG to do in the area of confidence building and I look forward to seeing these proposals come to fruition. Some of the new ideas include encouraging visits to defence establishments - and in this context I am pleased that you will be visiting HMAS Melbourne on Friday - cooperation in fields such as military medicine and military law and training for diplomatic and defence officials in regional security


While continuing to advance its CBMs agenda, the ARF also needs to develop a better capacity to contribute to the avoidance and management of regional differences and disputes.

One way forward is for the ARF to agree on generic mechanisms which the parties involved might want to utilise to help them manage differences or issues between them.

I am particularly interested, for example, in the possibility of developing a "Good Offices" role for the ARF Chair, one of a number of preventive diplomacy issues I understand were discussed today.

Of course, this is an area where there will always be differences of view on how far and how fast the ARF should move.

It means we must move at a pace comfortable for everyone while, at the same time, taking a genuinely innovative and practical approach in defining those areas where real progress is possible.

I very much hope you will be successful in doing exactly that over the course of this meeting.


I want to conclude my remarks with the thought that the valuable work of this group - and the wider endeavours of the ASEAN Regional Forum - demonstrate the sort of flexibility and creativity that all our regional and national institutions will need to meet the challenges of the 21 st Century.

Australia will continue to be a thoughtful source of practical ideas and inspiration for the ARF, and other key regional and global institutions.

It is fair to say that the ARF does not enjoy the highest profile in the region's press, nor does it often attract the public plaudits that its quiet but immensely effective work deserves.

But the ARF is having a positive impact on the region's well being and quality of life, and it has great potential for future development.

It is building the indispensable habits of consultation, cooperation and openness which lie at the heart of the region's future stability and security.

That is why the Australian Government wants to see the work of the ISG go forward and develop even more momentum.

[speech title] Page 5 o f 6 21/04/1998

And that is why we will remain firmly committed to the ASEAN Regional Forum as an important step towards the creation of a sense of strategic community in the Asia Pacific.

[speech title] Page 6 o f 6

Return to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade homepage

Return to Minister for Foreign Affairs speech index 21/04/1998