His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has called for greater strategic engagement between ASEAN and Australia, saying education and trade ties are crucial to building a closer relationship.
Speaking during a summit of regional leaders in Sydney on Sunday, Brunei’s monarch said the free trade agreement between ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand has improved trade flow and served as a framework for other FTAs such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Last year, trade volume between Brunei and Australia stood at roughly $500 million, comprising mostly petroleum products, meat and aquaculture.
His Majesty also underscored the importance of education ties, with thousands of ASEAN students studying in Australia each year.
Cooperation through exchange programmes such as the Colombo Plan and scholarships are vital in nurturing mutual understanding, he said.
During his three-day working visit to Australia, the Sultan also met with more than 300 Brunei citizens, mostly students, during a gathering at the Sydney Hilton.
In a titah, the monarch stressed that educated and skilled citizens will drive Brunei’s economic growth, repeating his call for youth to come forward with ideas to advance national development.
His Majesty urged students to use government scholarship opportunities not only to better their education, but to contribute back to Brunei.
Despite not being a member of the 10-nation bloc, Australia hosted the special two-day summit as it seeks to tighten political and trade ties in the region. It is the first time Australia has held a meeting with Southeast Asian leaders on home soil.
As a bloc, ASEAN is Australia’s third-largest trading partner, worth almost $100 billion in 2016.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called the meeting “a coming of age of Australia’s relationship with Southeast Asia”, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo even welcomed the idea of its southern neighbour becoming a full ASEAN member, although analysts were more skeptical of the idea.
Here are some of the outcomes of the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit:
In a bid to counter the threat of violent extremism, ASEAN and Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on counter terrorism which covers aspects such as intelligence sharing and combating online radicalisation.
“Although ISIL has lost its so-called caliphate in Mosul and Raqqa, we know that its operational and ideological influence in our region is growing,” said Turnbull. “Terrorism is a truly global threat, as digital as it is dangerous. It harnesses technologies which have been the source of so much progress and enlightenment, for their own dark and destructive ends.”
In a joint statement issued at the end of the summit, leaders also expressed their “grave concern” about North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
“We reiterate our support for the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula… We welcome efforts to improve inter-Korea relations. We also welcome ASEAN’s readiness to play a constructive role in contributing to peace and stability in the Korean peninsula,” leaders said.
While ASEAN comprises 15 per cent of Australia’s trade, CEOs and SMEs from across the region came together in a business forum to discuss how the business environment could be further improved.
The IMF forecasts that over the next five years, six of ASEAN’s economies will grow faster than China and every single one of ASEAN’s economies will grow faster than both the United States and the European Union.
“You don’t grow stronger by closing the door to other markets. Protectionism is a dead end. It is not a ladder to get you out of the low-growth trap. It is a shovel to dig it much deeper,” Turnbull told media on the sidelines of the summit.
“Open markets do not happen by themselves. They require the support and commitment of governments and business leaders.”
ASEAN is working with six of its dialogue partners — China, India, Australia, Japan, Korea and New Zealand — to finalise the RCEP, which once concluded would be one of the largest FTAs in the world accounting for 39 per cent of global GDP.
Education is a cornerstone of Australia’s engagement with Southeast Asia and is supported by measures such as the New Colombo Plan and the Australia Awards.
Around 100,000 ASEAN citizens studied in Australia between 2014 to 2018, and more than 13,500 Australian undergraduates are being supported to study and undertake internships in ASEAN through the Colombo Plan.
Last weekend, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced 50 scholarships to the next generation of leaders from ASEAN countries to undertake postgraduate study in Australia starting in 2019. The scholarships are aimed at contributing positive outcomes for the region, including poverty reduction, human rights and gender equality.
Over the next five years, Australia will help develop ASEAN cities across Southeast Asia in sustainable ways through a $30 million investment fund. The initiative will set up a knowledge bank of sustainable urban planning ideas to be shared between ASEAN and Australia, such green infrastructure, renewable energy and data analytics.