The ASEAN core gets an Australian touch

An ASEAN-Australia special summit earlier this month in Melbourne, Australia's prime minister, Anthony Albanese, lifted the ban on success, and Australia's press and foreign policy commentary is attuned to this sort of thing. Australian officials expressed the necessary solidarity with the Philippines in its efforts to assert its claim over Scarborough Shoal, announcing a major package aimed at deepening economic ties with ASEAN and culminating in Australia's announcement to improve relations. A comprehensive strategic partnership with Hanoi.

Australia is thus deepening its ties with 'Southeast Asia' – but what does that mean for relations with ASEAN?

The summit lacked any sign of ASEAN beef, both rhetorical and substantive, as an anchor of a regional order based on security cooperation and open markets.

Of course, it is not Canberra's role to step out in front of ASEAN members in proposing or leading efforts to reform and improve its institutions. What is required is a greater ambition and willingness by ASEAN's member states to invest political and diplomatic capital in the project.

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim Australian National University address, held after the Melbourne summit, certainly offered a glimpse of that ambition. Anwar warned of the dangers of seeking to contain China in Australia, but his comments reflected a regional consensus about the dangers of great power competition and the futility of the task of containing China. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong explained (After their bilateral meeting, Prime Minister Albanese was incredibly complimentary A leader of a great democracy.)

Anwar has defied concerns about his own political standing to assert his dominance in Malaysian politics since his appointment as prime minister in 2022. Despite voters grumbling about cost-of-living pressures, there was an opposition party determined to capitalize on Malaysia's ethnic and religious tensions. support, his government is set to see out a full five-year term.

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A combination of Anwar's secure political position at home and his apparent ambitions to provide political leadership within ASEAN will see Malaysia assume the leadership of ASEAN in 2025. In October 2024, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto was sworn in as president. If ASEAN is to remain uncursed by the old joke (classically made about Brazil) – it has immense potential and always will – then a plan bought by Jakarta will require reform and upgrading.

In this week's feature article, Liam Gammon examines Indonesia's domestic political landscape following the landslide election of Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto as president in February. With the elections thoroughly criticized by experts, civil society and opposition candidates, 'the priority for both Prabowo and Jokowi now lies in the controversy over the level of government intervention in February's presidential election'.

'The underlying legitimacy of Prabowo's victory is not in question – his victory clearly reflects the electorate's genuine desire for a candidate who was sold to them as representing the continuation of a popular government that brought stability and economic progress to the country. As Cayman writes. Although Prabowo's Gerindra party did not fare as well as expected due to the coat-tail result, he will enjoy the support of a broad coalition of parties that support the administration of outgoing President Joko Widodo (Jokowi).

As Prabowo prepares to enter office with a strong base of political power, the guessing game about his approach to international affairs is in full swing. Prabowo inherits an Indonesia whose elite is increasingly confident of Jakarta's role as a leader of the Global South and a bridge between developed and developing countries on the world stage.

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Coupled with the nationalism of its incoming president, that optimism is a double-edged sword if a view spreads throughout Indonesia's elite.

Rather than looking at Indonesia's comparative advantage, the default expectation based on his nationalist rhetoric is that Prabowo will prove to be a realist who sees his role as maximizing Indonesia's interests in bilateral activities with superpower leaders he believes are his true peers. Building a company closer to home and developing that regional weight.

If so, the multilateralists in Jakarta can convince their work Prabowo should invest his time and energy in slow and necessary joint ventures Engaged in leading ASEAN's transformation.

While Indonesia will not be ASEAN chair during Prabowo's first five-year term (he faces re-election in 2029), other regions and especially Malaysia may have equal jobs in the driver's seat next year. ASEAN should engage Indonesia in efforts to promote and mobilize influence.

The EAF faculty is based at the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.

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