|Patrick Walters, National security editor | June 04, 2008
AUSTRALIA wants to join the annual ASEAN defence ministers meeting in a move that would help cement Canberra's security ties with Southeast Asia.
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said yesterday he was keen to explore the idea of Australian membership of the two-year-old forum with his 10 ASEAN counterparts. He said he had had informal discussions on the ADMM issue during last weekend's Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual conference in Singapore involving regional defence ministers and military chiefs.
The aim would be to have Australia and New Zealand join the ADMM in an "ASEAN-Plus" meeting, which would link ASEAN with the South Pacific's principal defence players.
Mr Fitzgibbon said he hoped to pursue the issue with key ASEAN counterparts. "I am very conscious this would only work if there were consensus amongst the existing members," he said.
The issue of expanding the ADMM into an ASEAN-Plus forum was raised publicly in Singapore but the ASEAN ministers declined to comment publicly on whether they would support such a move.
The ADMM was first convened in 2006 as a regional security forum bringing together the 10 ASEAN countries. The inaugural ADMM agreed that the forum should be "open, flexible and outward looking" in terms of engaging ASEAN's friends and dialogue partners.
The idea of creating an ADMM-Plus with Australia and New Zealand would only proceed with the consent of all 10 members, including Burma.
Just wondering on your thoughts on what our play should be regarding ASEAN; our combined trade with the group is bigger than any single trading relationship we have, bigger than China or Japan or the US. Our economy is over $1.1trillion AUD which is larger than the combined ASEAN economy (not on PPP but nominal) and our defence budget is by far the biggest out of any of the ASEAN members. It would make sense economically and militarily for ASEAN to include Australia (and NZ) into the group, however the cultural barriers to still exist, particularly with Burma needing to approve which is doubtful.
Anyway, thoughts anyone?