Charting a course for regional stability: Australia’s maritime commitment

By Our Reporter
Foreign Minister Penny Wong in Box Hill for Lunar New Year celebrations

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong underscored the importance of maritime cooperation and regional stability in her keynote address at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit 2024 Maritime Cooperation Forum in Melbourne. Minister Wong’s speech highlighted Australia’s dedication to fostering peace, stability, and prosperity through enhanced economic partnership and maritime security within the ASEAN region.

Minister Wong commenced her address by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land, the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung and Bunurong Wurung peoples of the Kulin Nation, and paying respect to their Elders. Her speech underlined the long-standing friendship and partnership between Australia and ASEAN countries, notably mentioning the recently elevated Strategic Partnership with the Philippines, which signifies the depth and potential for further growth in their bilateral relations.

Reflecting on the visionary approach of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam towards ASEAN, Wong stressed Australia’s early engagement and formal relations with ASEAN, which have evolved into a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. This partnership is a testament to Australia’s commitment to the region’s centrality and shared future, emphasising the mutual benefits derived from peace, stability, and economic collaboration.

The minister unveiled “Invested: Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040,” a roadmap designed to boost trade and investment and build shared prosperity. The strategy aims to translate into action during the Special Summit’s business track, engaging CEOs and business enterprises in meaningful dialogue.

However, Wong cautioned that shared prosperity alone cannot guarantee peace. The recent turmoil in Gaza and Ukraine starkly illustrates the potential devastation of conflict. Hence, Australia and its ASEAN partners are committed to shaping a peaceful, stable, and prosperous region, maintaining balance, and ensuring that no country dominates or is dominated. This commitment involves nurturing agreed rules, upholding international law, and building strategic trust, especially in light of challenges to the region’s character.

Amid geopolitical tensions, the speech highlighted the importance of dialogue, restraint, and peaceful dispute resolution in accordance with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Australia has pledged an additional $64 million over four years, including $40 million in new funding, to enhance Southeast Asia Maritime Partnerships, focusing on security, prosperity, and the management of maritime domains.

Furthermore, a $222.5 million investment was announced for the Mekong subregion to support resilience against climate change, combat transnational crime, and strengthen leadership, marking a continuation of Australia’s long-term commitment to the region.

Minister Wong’s address at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit 2024 articulated a clear vision for Australia’s role in ensuring a stable and prosperous maritime domain within the ASEAN region. Through increased economic partnership, adherence to international law, and a commitment to regional security, Australia aims to uphold the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific, reinforcing ASEAN’s centrality and collective voice in shaping the future of the region.

Penny Wong, with her extensive background in politics and law, and as the current Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Albanese government since 2022, brings a wealth of experience and a deep understanding of the region’s dynamics to her role. Born in Malaysia and moving to Australia at a young age, Wong’s unique perspective enhances her approach to foreign policy, particularly in fostering relationships within the Asia-Pacific region​​​​.

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