21 February 2014 - Celebrating four decades of dialogue relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, in the presence of ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh, led the Official Launch of the ASEAN-Australia 40th Anniversary Commemoration at The Peninsula Manila Hotel on February 20.
“Today, we celebrate Australia’s status as ASEAN’s first official Dialogue Partner, as well as the mutually beneficial engagement between ASEAN and Australia these past four decades,” said Secretary Del Rosario, recalling Australia’s vision to partner with ASEAN forty years ago, when it was just composed of five member states.
Recognizing what it has become today, “the ASEAN-Australia dialogue relations has evolved and matured to cover a wide spectrum of political, security, economic, social, cultural and development cooperation,” Secretary-General Minh noted.
“This is a significant organization, with significant interests and influence, and Australia is proud to be a Dialogue Partner,” Minister Bishop said.
With the region now representing over 600 million people with a combined GDP of US$2.4 trillion, Minister Bishop described ASEAN as the “most important piece of regional architecture for Southeast Asia.”
After the Ministers’ exchange of remarks, the Official Logo of the ASEAN-Australia 40th Anniversary Commemoration was unveiled, depicting the synthesis of both regions’ flags, with emphasis on the number “40.”
‘Yolanda’ assistance and other cooperation areas
“It was an instinctive response, when we heard the news of Typhoon Yolanda and Australians gave from their hearts, and urged the government to do the same. Our contribution to the reconstruction and the humanitarian efforts now reaches about 100 million dollars,” Minister Bishop noted.
Del Rosario recognized Australia’s immediate response to Typhoon Yolanda, as well as its assistance towards capacity-building for the implementation of ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER), especially the operationalization of the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Center).
He also looked forward for the continued support of Australia and other ASEAN Member States (AMS) to the Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda (RAY) Program.
“We hope that our cooperation in disaster management will also address climate change mitigation and adaptation needs, as they are closely linked to the emerging pattern of natural disasters,” said Secretary Del Rosario, who also stressed other areas of cooperation including ensuring long-term regional development by establishing linkages such as the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA).
On the political and security front, the Secretary lauded Australia in its peace-building agenda within individual AMS, such as the focused assistance on education in Mindanao, and for supporting AMS’ call for a peaceful and prosperous region, “where universally recognized principles of international law, including UNCLOS, prevail.”
Meanwhile, Minister Bishop said, “Our areas of interests now cover trade, investment, education, development assistance, disaster relief and I thank Secretary del Rosario for acknowledging contribution that Australia made to the Philippines.”
The new ‘Colombo Plan’
Bishop said that the Australian government has adopted an education initiative referred as the new Colombo Plan, which aims at providing Australian scholarship opportunities to the young people of ASEAN.
It can be recalled that the original Colombo Plan of the 1950s brought about 40,000 young people of ASEAN to study at Australian universities, according to Bishop.
“Such is our recognition of the changing landscape and the growing strength of our region, that Australia will now take the opportunity to send our best and brightest young people into the region to study at universities in your countries,” said Minister Bishop with an aspiration for Australians to acquire new perspectives that will contribute to the Australian economy.
“We hope that from 2015 on, the ASEAN countries will welcome Australian students into their universities, into their homes and into their lives,” she continued.
ASEAN-Australia Commemorative Activities
The ASEAN-Australia Commemorative Summit will be held in November this year, wherein the adoption of a new Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-Australia Comprehensive Partnership (2014-2018) is expected.
“We start with a Plan of Action for four years, but we hope that it will underpin enduring relationship into the future. There will be a meeting between the ASEAN leaders and our prime minister, a commemorative event that in fact, gives rise to our hope that we will be able to meet with the ASEAN leaders and with our prime minister in a regular basis,” Minister Bishop explained.
The Australian side informed the audience, which is composed of top diplomats, including the Heads of Mission/ Representatives of all AMS and Dialogue Partners in the Philippines, that commemorative activities will include seminars, reflections on ASEAN-Australia history, publication of books, forums on emerging leaders and other areas where both sides “can work together for the betterment of their citizens.”
Served as an opportunity to chart a new strategic direction, complementing ASEAN’s focus on strengthening regional integration through the ASEAN Community 2015 and beyond, the Official Launch generally reflected on the depth of ASEAN-Australia engagement in security, culture, trade, education, people-to-people exchanges and development.
“Today, with 10 member states, ASEAN will forge ahead with Australia to build a stronger, resilient and progressive Asia-Pacific region that will meet the challenges of the 21st century. This is our opportunity and we will not fail in this great endeavor,” Secretary del Rosario said.
The ASEAN Secretary-General confirmed Secretary Del Rosario’s statement by saying that the “comprehensive partnership has significantly contributed toward the maintenance and promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in Asia-Pacific region and has brought about great opportunities and benefits to the people of ASEAN and Australia.”
“We all look forward to the journey ahead as the ASEAN countries and Australia continue to work cooperatively, collaboratively as true friends and partners,” Minister Bishop concluded.
The Philippines is the Country Coordinator for ASEAN-Australia relations. END