Years ago, Israel expressed its desire to join the European Union. I was skeptical of it back then because of one reason: geography. Now, I am expressing similar skepticism on Australian intention to join ASEAN. According to Bloomberg:
Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Trade Minister Warren Truss will attend the second East Asia meeting on Jan. 15. along with leaders from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations plus Japan, China, India, South Korea and New Zealand. Australia will also push its application for permanent membership in Asean, analysts said.
Just like how Israel is not geographically Europe, Australia is not part of Southeast Asia.
This does not mean that I do not favor closer integration among nations of the world or within this context, between ASEAN and Australia. I am all for it. I would be delighted if free flow of labor and capital through the borders of ASEAN and Australia were guaranteed. Further, I do not deny that ASEAN and Australia share a number of similar concerns that demand close cooperation.
Yet, having Australia as a member state questions the basis of ASEAN: what is the basis of ASEAN?
I consider ASEAN as a regional grouping. As the name suggests, the region refers to Southeast Asia.
If ASEAN is to grant Australia membership, I do not see why it should stop with just Australia. China, South Korea and Japan should be part of ASEAN. Maybe, even India too. Hence, where would it end?
The admission of these states into ASEAN would possibly dilute the influence the original ten member states. I am sure these current extra-ASEAN states have their own unique interests and they could bring up those issues that at the expense of ours. Take what had happened at APEC for example: because of President Bush’s political goal, terrorism became the focus of APEC despite the fact that APEC was established as a trade forum. The trend was only reversed after several East Asian countries as well as those from Southeast Asia took a stand and said no to the US, saying that APEC is a trade forum, not security.
Furthermore, ASEAN is drafting its charter. The matter of accession will distract ASEAN from the exercise. If we as ASEAN are to admit Australia into the club, or even debate on it, let us do it after the ratification of the charter.
Therefore, I am currently in the position that Australia should remain in the next best thing: the East Asia Summit. I am saying no to Australia, for now.