19 June 2017
OSCE Asian Partners Conference
Session 1: Confidence-building in times of geopolitical change: “The view from the Indo-Pacific”
Address by Mr Kevin Magee, Assistant Secretary, Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss such an important issue.
It is valuable to use this forum to exchange ideas across our respective areas – and to bring different perspectives to the table.
I plan to describe the Indo-Pacific’s response to geopolitical volatility and the region’s contribution to confidence-building and stability.
The world has entered an unprecedented period of strategic realignment and geopolitical change. Chancellor Merkel’s comments in May calling for greater European self-reliance surprised Europe and much of the world. But they simply reflect reality that the world is returning to a multipolar structure.
This does not mean that we expect the collapse of the US, the West or any of the major powers. Indeed, we believe our allies and partners, particularly the US and Europe, will remain strong, dynamic and globally influential. Instead, the global strategic order is being rewritten peacefully by the growing wealth and strategic weight of rising Indo-Pacific powers, particularly India and China. And by increasing assuredness and raised expectations throughout the world.
One important consequence of this is that the US-anchored rules-based order — in which nations big and small agree to play by the rules and respect each other’s sovereignty — can no longer be taken for granted. The assumptions and calculations that underpinned strategic stability through much of the 20th century are thus in question.
We cannot hope to recover the strategic certainties of earlier times. While Australia remains steadfast in its enduring alliances and partnerships, we welcome and embrace the developments driving this strategic shift.
At the same time, globalisation and hyper-connectivity mean we collectively face a range of threats our forebears could scarcely imagine.
Seemingly interminable conflicts in the Middle East and Africa; the sickening insanity of terrorism; economic and border instability in Europe; foreign interference across the democratic world; and a deeper level of political alienation and economic nationalism than we’ve seen since the 1930s.
The internet and the digital technologies it has enabled are breaking down national boundaries and distance, instantly linking geographically distant and disconnected people worldwide — for both good and ill. Technology has connected local aspirations and grievances with global movements.
Our unprecedented openness and hyper-connectivity mean we are all more vulnerable to attacks by non-state actors and rogue states.
It means shared threats of transnational crime, cyber-attack, and extremism connect otherwise distant nations – and regions – across the world.
We cannot rely on traditional measures of hard power to protect us from these threats. We need to be more flexible, creative and constructive in managing a more complex and dynamic security environment. And we have to take responsibility for our own security and prosperity while recognising we are stronger when cooperating with trusted partners and friends.
But change and uncertainty are always with us. Every generation makes decisions that move us closer together or further apart. While we should remain clear-eyed about the challenges, we should embrace change rather than fear it.
In many ways Australia’s region — the Indo-Pacific— is model of how a more complex global strategic system can work.
Our region is home to the world’s second and third largest economies in China and Japan; three of the four most populous countries (China, India and Indonesia); and a number of the world’s most successful and dynamic economies, including Australia and our Asian Partner colleagues in the Republic of Korea.
It is a region where the US-anchored rules-based order could never be taken for granted. But one that has, as our Prime Minister recently said in Singapore, experienced ‘the greatest burst of economic growth and human advancement the world has ever seen’. And where flourishing trade, investment and flows of people and ideas have bound us all closer together.
But these positive economic forces also bring political uncertainty, the acquisition of military capability and strategic ambition. There has been an intensification of regional flash points.
We do not enjoy the firm structures and alliances in Europe: the EU, NATO and the OSCE. Rather, we have experienced remarkable growth based on some important factors:
- we all have a vested interest in each other’s security;
- although our interests will not align on every issue, we can find a unity of purpose;
- we commit to resolving our disagreements through dialogue in accordance with agreed rules and established institutions; and
- the strong do not act as they will without consequence.
We have achieved this through collective commitment to dialogue, cooperation, trust-building, and adherence to common set of values governing relations between our countries. And particularly a shared respect for sovereignty.
Deeper trade also helps strengthen regional cohesion. Australia strongly believes in the need for continued liberalisation of trade links. We have free trade agreements with a large number of Indo-Pacific partners — including ASEAN (with New Zealand), China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. These consolidate engagement, trade, investment flows and people-to-people links between Australia and our Indo-Pacific partners.
Our region has sought to shape a geopolitical reality in which might is not right, where inclusiveness is the norm and where transparent rules apply to all.
Of course, China will play a larger role in shaping our region. It is natural that Beijing will seek strategic influence to match its economic weight. We want China to fill the leadership role in a way that strengthens the regional order that has served us all so well. We don’t take sides in disputes over territory in the South China Sea, but simply reaffirm the importance of regional peace, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation.
In North Korea, the Indo-Pacific faces an exceptionally pressing security threat. Together with our partners, including the United States, Japan, the Republic of Korea and China, we condemn North Korea’s behaviour and continue to work to uphold global peace and stability.
In our near neighbourhood, Australia engages comprehensively with ASEAN, initially as a dialogue partner and since 2014 as a Strategic Partner. This reflects our belief that ASEAN’s unparalleled contribution to regional security, stability and economic integration are vital to our security and economic well-being. Other regional powers have similar relationships (e.g. US, Russia, China, Japan and ROK).
We also engage actively in other regional initiatives, including:
- the East Asian Summit, which draws together the ASEAN countries and eight other regional powers, including China, Russia, India and the US, and collectively represents 55% of the world’s population and world GDP;
- APEC (21 members, including Chile, Mexico and Canada) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (27 members, including India, EU, DPRK, Mongolia and Pakistan); and, more recently;
- the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), which is helping build better and stronger habits of dialogue across the Indian Ocean.
These overlapping institutions and overlapping communities of interest facilitate the dialogue and negotiation that has helped the region largely avoid conflict and achieve unprecedented development through the last four decades.
Our future collective security and wealth rely on common respect for such rules and institutions, negotiation and compromise, and on resisting the temptations of nationalism and simplistic solutions to complex problems.
All the major powers have achieved their current wealth and strength through an enduring commitment to a common set of values:
- respect for sovereignty;
- respect for the views and interests of all nations;
- a commitment to increasingly free movement of goods, services and capital; and
- a commitment to dialogue and trust-building rather than confrontation and interference.
The Indo-Pacific has faced serious challenges in the past: imperial nationalism; economic crises; conflict; and pandemics.
We have worked through these challenges and emerged stronger.
In the process, our region has seen the largest and fastest economic transformation in human history.
To maintain this dynamism, we must preserve the rules-based order that has worked to date.
This means cooperation rather than unilateral action. It means competing within the framework of international law, not winning through corruption, interference or coercion. It means working within the rules and sometimes accepting lasting compromise.
Upholding and defending these values is the best way to continued peace and prosperity in the context of geopolitical change.