Marise Payne, Minister of Defence, Australia
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. May I acknowledge and thank our hosts here in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee and my good friend Eng Hen, for your hospitality and the very warm welcome that you have extended to us all on the occasion of this Shangri-La Dialogue.
To your excellencies, my ministerial and parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great pleasure to have the opportunity to be here this morning and indeed to see so many familiar faces in the audience. Shangri-La, the Dialogue, indeed has stood the test of time. Its reputation is world-leading and that is manifested in the audience here today.
There is a consistent thread in recent discussions on the changes to our region, both here, in Europe or in Australia that the focus of economic and strategic gravity in the world is shifting to the Indo-Pacific. And it raises with it the importance of both the region to the world, and the need for our region to be more open to the world.
Indeed, the facts speak for themselves. Over the past 50 years, GDP in East Asia has increased from $272 billion to over $22 trillion. It is now predicted that East Asia will produce about one-third of global GDP by 2030.
Southeast Asia provides a special vantage point for seeing just how consequential these changes have been and indeed continue to be. On current trajectories, ASEAN is poised to become the fourth-largest market after the European Union (EU), the United States and China by 2030.
Notably, for over a quarter of a century, ASEAN has been free of major inter-state conflict. That stability and prosperity has not happened by chance. They are the result of concerted efforts to set and to live by rules governing economic integration and security cooperation.
The region’s rules-based order has been the cornerstone of equity, stability and transparent decision-making, protecting us from actions that destabilise security and prosperity. To uphold the rule of law is the best way to ensure that stability prevails. It is for this reason that ASEAN’s founders made it, rightly, a fundamental principle in the pursuit of its collective interests and identity.
The importance of the rules-based order is as relevant today as ever before. But today’s challenges and threats are increasingly complex, ranging from the variants of the terrorist threat and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to the effects of climate change and cyber attacks.
We must challenge any tendency to complacency born of a belief that our increasing economic interdependence acts as a guarantor of security, because that is a false belief. We need to invest the same level of commitment and ambition in our security cooperation that we have in economic cooperation, and we need to make new efforts to uphold and reinforce the rules-based order that has enabled us to get to where we are today, an order by which all in the region have benefited.
Perhaps the greatest example of this benefit is China. China has lifted half a billion people out of poverty, in large part by engaging with global markets in a stable security environment. That growth has driven prosperity in many other countries, too. Trade in goods and resources has been the foundation of this growth and maritime security, built upon the foundation of agreed rules for how all nations behave at sea, has made that possible. We need to maintain those rules to maintain our shared prosperity.
It is even more important that we do so when confronted with challenging circumstances, such as those of overlapping sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. Australia calls on all countries to act in the South China Sea in ways that are consistent with international law, including the decision of the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal. Australia will continue to act in accordance with international law. Our ships, our aircraft, will operate in the South China Sea, as they have for decades, consistent with the rights of freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight. We will also continue to strongly support the right of others to exercise these rights.
Where a reminder of the adherence to the rules-based international order is urgently needed now is North Korea, and I think Secretary Mattis exemplified this very effectively this morning. The regime’s flagrant disregard for international norms in building nuclear weapons is all the more alarming in light of their threats to use them. We obviously cannot afford to dismiss those threats as empty, given their track record of defying international law and UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Australia continues to work closely with the US and other partners to increase the cost of North Korea’s behaviour, including the application of diplomatic and economic pressure.
It is encouraging that China has condemned recent actions from the DPRK and supported UNSC efforts to curb the actions of Pyongyang. We do encourage China to continue on this path, as there is more to be done to deal with this instability on their doorstep. To be clear, China is the source of North Korea’s foreign-investment, energy and export income. They do have a broad range of options to exert non-military pressure on North Korea, unlike any other country. Australia seeks to work within the region and more broadly, and with China, to address this strategic and security challenge.
Ladies and gentlemen, Australia is also concerned by the emerging risks posed by the prospect of returning foreign fighters to this region as matters in the Middle East unfold and is committed to working cooperatively with other nations in the region to address the threat. As the global coalition, of which Australia is a significant contributor, continues to defeat Daesh in Iraq and in Syria, there is a growing risk of the foreign fighters seeking to return to Southeast Asia.
I have raised this concern for our region at every Counter-Daesh Coalition Defence Ministers’ Meeting since I began in this role in 2015, and I don’t apologise for being a broken record on this matter. These individuals have the potential to influence local extremists and the groups to which they may adhere, to conduct attacks, to recruit and radicalise others. In addition, militants arrested in the wake of terrorist attacks and plots across Southeast Asia in the last 15 years, which attacked the fabric and the culture of our nations, are due to be released from prison in coming months, many of them still or potentially more radicalised. Daesh-inspired attacks such as in Indonesia and as we’ve seen recently in the Philippines, including in Marawi, are reminders of the persistent threat that these terrorists and their toxic ideology pose to our region.
The complexity of this threat demands a truly cooperative approach incorporating robust legislation, effective and timely sharing of intelligence, and indeed constant innovation in our approach. Australia will continue to work with our partners in Southeast Asia to counter this threat, building on our extensive programme of regional counter-terrorism capacity-building and engagement activities.
The best way for us to defend against rules being bent or selectively applied is by strengthening regional cooperative mechanisms. The East Asia Summit, for example, is the centrepiece of regional architecture and the region’s premier forum for strategic dialogue, to which Australia is committed to strengthening.
ASEAN, for its part, has shown how its core principles underpin the protection of its collective interests. To do so into the future, ASEAN will need to find and to look for ways to build consensus to meet new and diverse challenges.
From my perspective, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus, or ADMM-Plus, plays a key role in promoting practical defence cooperation. In particular, meetings of the ADMM-Plus provide regional defence ministers with valuable opportunities to review progress, to discuss and take action against evolving security challenges. Australia called for and strongly supports ASEAN’s decision to hold these meetings on an annual basis. I look forward to that next meeting in Manila in October this year. Australia has a proud history of not only contributing to, but also playing a leadership role in, the ADMM-Plus framework.
ASEAN continuing its interactions with strategic and dialogue partners will also be instrumental for informing future agendas. Those interactions provide important opportunities for ASEAN to assert its collective influence, among which finalising the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea must be a priority.
In terms of Australia’s interactions with ASEAN, as the Prime Minister indicated in his remarks last night, Australia looks forward to hosting the ASEAN–Australia Summit next year. We are also a very strong supporter of the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting construct and welcomed the opportunity to participate in that in Auckland recently. Indeed, this morning Minister Goulard and I discussed our mutual interest in the South Pacific region and we look forward to doing more together between France and Australia in that regard.
Beyond strengthening the regional frameworks, all countries with shared values and interests in the region need to increase the cooperation. In the defence and security context, this means working together to provide the inter-operability and information-sharing benefits that can ensure a high level of responsiveness.
In our 2016 Defence White Paper, Australia made clear its commitment to deepening its defence relationships with regional countries. The Australian Defence Force will participate more regularly in bilateral and multilateral exercises and our defence presence will be increased across our region. Our Defence Cooperation Program (DCP) will be enhanced to build the capability and the capacity of our regional partners. From Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste to Indonesia and Malaysia, Australia’s DCP has strengthened bonds across the region, with vital people-to-people, military-to-military, defence-to-defence relationships. We recognise the value of building those relationships based on common values.
The presence of the US has reinforced the stability of our region and the US continues to be vital in this regard, not just because of its power, but because of its willingness to support the rules-based order. Australia is currently hosting the US Marine Force Rotation as part of our Force Posture Initiatives, a tangible example of US commitment to and engagement in the region. I look forward to engaging with our regional partners as part of the Rotation’s exercise programme.
Similarly, Japan has long-standing bilateral partnerships with Australia and the US and is part of an effective and growing trilateral relationship with both. Tomomi, thank you for your remarks today. You referenced the value of our special strategic partnership and I endorse that. I very much enjoyed our meeting in Tokyo in April this year and look forward to continuing to work together.
India, too, is an increasingly important economic and security partner for Australia and the region in both bilateral and multilateral relationships, and we look forward to deepening our relationship there.
As China’s influence increases alongside its military capabilities, we will continue to work with Beijing to shape the region’s security in positive ways.
Importantly, this kind of cooperation between countries, inclusive and mutually beneficial, serves to reinforce the rules-based system for preserving lasting peace and security in the region. It also presents a clear example to all of how competing economies can cooperate in security and strategic terms for the benefit of the region and our people, and of the importance of the region’s openness to the world.
For Australia and for others, the importance is clear. Increased bilateral and multilateral cooperation enhances understanding, increases inter-operability to face shared security challenges, and importantly creates a willingness to do more. The development and the stability experienced by our region in recent decades has shown what can be achieved when a sense of common purpose is born from commitment to the rules-based order.
As we look to the future, there is one clear certainty amid the many challenges ahead: that the region’s security and prosperity will only be enhanced by our collective determination to uphold and enhance the rules-based order by which all benefit.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.