There is no alternative to ASEAN's centrality: Australian Ambassador Andrew Goledzinowski

WVR - Sharing with the World and Vietnam Report on the occasion of the ASEAN Future Forum 2024 on April 23 in Hanoi, the Australian Ambassador to Vietnam Andrew Goledzinowski affirmed that there is no alternative to ASEAN's centrality.
There is no alternative to the centrality of ASEAN: Australian Ambassador
The Australian Ambassador to Vietnam Andrew Goledzinowski (the middle) shared on the sideline of the ASEAN Future Forum 2024. (Photo: TV)

What are your comments on the success of the ASEAN Future Forum 2024 (AFF 2024), an initiative of Vietnam and held for the first time?

Well, I think it's been a tremendous success. The idea of a future forum actually came from the General Secretary of the United Nations when he'll be convening an important meeting later this year in New York. However, the initiative to bring together ASEAN views and take them to New York really was Vietnam's.

That's important for two reasons. One is ASEAN is an increasingly important part of the world. So the views of the nations of this region should be reflected in important international forums like the one that will be held in New York. But the other reason why I think this is important is that it's a further step by Vietnam towards regional leadership.

We think that's something which is natural and appropriate and something that we strongly support. Australia is very proud to be one of the financial sponsors of this event. It does give Vietnam the opportunity to play this convening role in ASEAN, which we think is very welcome.

One of the issues that we've raised throughout the forum is that the world is facing a lot of uncertainty and danger. The geopolitical and geoeconomic context continues to evolve unpredictably. Both traditional and non-traditional security issues continue to change along with the technological innovations presenting both opportunities and challenges for our region, which means the Southeast Asia region. How do you feel about this perspective?

It is absolutely correct and I think the same thought was echoed by many speakers in the forum. We do live in a period of uncertainty and danger.

For us, the way in which we respond to that is through dialogue, like the one that has been convened by Vietnam here and by renewing our adherence to the rules-based order.

We have managed to navigate the period since World War II effectively because of the development of international law and respecting for international sovereignty, adherencing to the important international treaties like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982), for example.

These are the things which have enabled small countries and large countries to work together and to prosper together in this part of the world. The old idea of spheres of influence were, we thought, put aside after World War II. We've seen a return to some of these concepts, which we think are very risky for peace and security in this part of the world.

So, that's a dialogue that we have with Vietnam a lot. One of the pillars of our comprehensive strategic partnership is defense and security. In fact, recently we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Australia-Vietnam defense cooperation. So, these are the sorts of things that we think are the answers to the challenges that we're facing – the continued dialogue. A dialogue in which we have peacefully co-existed for so long and continuing to underline the importance of sovereignty.

Today ASEAN is the fifth largest economy in the world with the fastest growth rate. However, the development among member states of the bloc is uneven. What should ASEAN do in your opinion?

To overcome this issue and ensure balance and sustainable economic growth, which is also one of the big issues here today. I do know that there has been a lot of discussion about how to further promote intra-ASEAN trade and investment. I think that will continue and that will happen in a natural way.

Most of the ASEAN countries are free-trading nations. They have very open market borders, very open economic systems, and that's good.

For a country like Australia, we're trying hard to promote more investment from Australia into ASEAN. Because we see that as being in ASEAN's interest, but also in our interest as well.

So I think the best thing that countries like Vietnam can do is actually to continue to focus on reducing the regulatory red tape, improving the ease of doing business, strengthening the legal system so that investors feel confident about putting their money into the Vietnamese economy.

And I think with all of these steps being taken, then economic prosperity, investment and trade will naturally come. Some of that will be intra-ASEAN, some will be from outside. That's fine, because both will be valuable.

Australia is a very important dialogue partner of ASEAN. As a comprehensive strategic partnership of ASEAN, could you share your expectations on ASEAN's centrality in upholding peace, security and prosperity in the region? And what do you think about the prospects of ASEAN-Australia relations in the time to come?

Well, Australia is very proud that we were the first dialogue partner of ASEAN and now is the comprehensive strategic partner of ASEAN. We intend to continue to prioritize our ASEAN relations.

For us, there is no alternative to ASEAN's centrality. So we celebrate the fact that while ASEAN is not a perfect organization, it has been incredibly successful over a very long time in maintaining peace and stability within the group. ASEAN also plays an increasingly vital role in convening the larger region within ASEAN to address problems. No one else can do it. ASEAN is doing it very well.

We will continue to invest our political and other capital in the work of ASEAN. I mean, there are many challenges. A big focus of AFF has been around peace and security, that is critical. We live in dangerous times and believe that we collectively have a responsibility to shape the region that we want to live in. Just hoping for peace actually isn't enough. We need to actually work together to achieve it.

Different countries will do it in different ways. The way Australia is operating will not be the same as the way that Vietnam operates. But we can collectively all pull in the same direction. Which is to ease tensions, to create balance, or achieve a situation where no country feels it's in their interests to upset the peace of the region.

That is critical and that is really the main challenge that we see ahead. But there are so many other challenges where ASEAN is relevant: Economic challenges, climate change, adaptation, digital transformation, energy transition, education and human resource development. So many things where ASEAN can work together. Australia will proudly work with ASEAN. Cooperation is always the key part of the plan. Cooperation is the key to peace, the key to stability, and the key to prosperity.

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