State and regional diplomacy can enhance Australia-Southeast Asia cooperation

Diplomacy is the prerogative of national governments and is handled by a small group of leaders, officials, diplomats and soldiers. Acceleration of globalization and interdependence since the 1970s has led to the emergence of new issues of interlinking, apart from new channels connecting countries such as security and military affairs and informal ties linking state and non-state elites. These new connections were often ignored, or perhaps misunderstood and underestimated, by national leaders and diplomats.

International diplomacy is not the exclusive domain of national leaders. Subnational DiplomacyThis implies engagement activities involving local actors and institutions, providing many new opportunities for Australia to engage in Southeast Asia.

Subnational diplomacy is a useful tool for local actors to gain new opportunities and address specific issues affecting a limited constituency. Economic opportunities often drive these efforts with strong incentives at the local and state levels. Local leaders can quickly capitalize on issues that directly affect their constituencies by providing material benefits to local people and gaining strong local political support.

Australian states and territories are aware of the benefits of greater economic links with Southeast Asia, and some are developing initiatives with Southeast Asian countries.

In September 2020, Western Australia released its own engagement strategy with Asia. The strategy has been implemented through activities like signing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Phra Ria Vung Tau Province, Vietnam to facilitate cooperation in trade and investment, tourism, education and cultural exchanges

In 2023, New South Wales and Jakarta Capital Govt Updated MoUs for cooperation with particular emphasis on agribusiness, food and beverages, technology, tourism and education.

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Also the Northern Territory Government and the West Nusa Tenggara Provincial Government of Indonesia Signed A Memorandum of Understanding to establish a sister-provincial arrangement by July 2023 to promote education and tourism opportunities and promote knowledge and skill sharing in their respective service industries. NT has signed an MoU with the State of India Kerala In October 2023.

Subnational diplomacy also presents challenges. Within federal systems, due to the principle of devolution – the division of powers between the three levels of government in Australia – local authorities have A certain degree of autonomy and freedom in initiating and implementing policies according to local needs.

But this autonomy does not necessarily extend to international diplomacy, and can lead to an inconsistent practice of foreign policy.

When then-President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, US state governors, mayors and businessmen Entered To fill the void through own initiatives such as the US Climate Alliance and Climate Mayors.

Multiple subnational actors pursuing diplomatic initiatives can lead to coordination problems, internal competition among local institutions, and fragmentation of national strategies, especially when national and subnational actors compete to engage the same foreign partner. For example, Western Australias and VictoriaChina's efforts to engage with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have raised some concerns about integration issues when these efforts took place against the backdrop of Australia's reserved approach to the BRI.

Lack of coordination between state and local levels can be severe Impacts As foreign actors exploit these subnational engagements to sow internal divisions and undermine national policies, for security and national security. of Victoria Memorandums of Understanding As Australia-China relations have deteriorated, it has come under intense scrutiny—including one in the BRI—with China.

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State and territory governments are expected to continue to develop relationships with Southeast Asian local institutions. A recent Report Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) predicts that Southeast Asia will drive global economic growth to 2040 and beyond. As a supplier of goods, quality goods and services, and an investor in infrastructure and green energy transition, Australia will benefit from Southeast Asia's economic dynamism in many ways.

DFAT's report encourages a whole-of-government approach to improving Australia's economic engagement with the region. The strategy highlights the importance of Australian federal and territory governments in strengthening the country's connectivity with Southeast Asia. In 2022, of Australia Council of Ministers on Trade and Investment Established to promote trade and investment opportunities with Indo-Pacific partners. The council consists of trade ministers from all states and territories and held its first meeting in 2023 to align trade and investment priorities.

Australian state, territory and federal governments should continue to support subnational diplomatic efforts with Southeast Asia.

The region's priority, like many states and territories, remains economic development, especially as climate change and geopolitical tensions make regional leaders increasingly aware of the importance of resilience and inclusive growth.

State and regional authorities should focus on projects consistent with this vision, such as building critical infrastructure, supporting energy transitions, and developing skills and knowledge. Oversight and coordination by the federal government should ensure that all programs are consistent with Australia's strategy of engaging with the region and its national security interests, but strong local incentives for state and territory leaders may yield faster results.

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