April 22nd ASEAN-Australia Forum and Laos-ASEAN leadership (I have returned from CPD leave!)

The April 22 28th ASEAN-Australia Forum was the second since the creation of the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership. Co-chaired by Mr Gary Quinlan (Deputy Secretary of Australia’s DFAT) and U Aung Lynn (Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar), the event allowed for review of regional developments to encompass both traditional and non-traditional security concerns. An emphasis on shared commitment to a rules based order reaffirmed the progression of ASEAN-Australia cooperation against the three pillars of the ASEAN community—as set out in the Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership (2015-2019).

Consensus touched on a plethora of forward looking directions including, amongst other points: mutual recognition of the potential benefits of a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (the ASEAN Economic Community makes up Australia’s second largest trading partner); welcoming in of the Kuala Lumpur Declaration driving institutional strengthening of the East Asia Summit; expansion of Australia’s Colombo Plan  commitments; and the establishment of the ASEAN-Australia Council. The issue of forced migration and transnational crime came under the spotlight when Mr Quinlan welcomed in ratification of ASEAN’s 2016 Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. In the context of the convention, participants reviewed the long running AAPTIP project as well as Australia’s new ‘International Strategy to combat Human Trafficking and Slavery‘, launched at the sixth Bali Process Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and related Transnational Crime—March 2016 Bali. The Bali Declaration, there adopted, was highlighted as calling for enhanced member cooperation, coordination, and integration with regional and global initiatives.

In terms of geo-political security, issues covered included the need to preserve freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and UN Security Council resolution 2270—aiming to halt advancement of North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs. In sum, the call was for adherence to the rule of law and diplomatic process to ensure peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea without threats of force; consensus backed resolution 2270 and a call for a return to the September 19 2005 position contained within the Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks on the Korean nuclear issue. The proceedings furthermore looked forward to the ASEAN-Australia Joint Cooperation Committee, the July Vientiane Post-Ministerial conference, the September Vientiane commencement of biennial ASEAN-Australia Leaders Summits, and the 2017 Myanmar ASEAN-Australia Forum. This year’s Co-Chair Statement was subsequently made available.

The date of the forum, April 22nd, also saw the Lao PDR government issue a briefing on the country’s 2016 chairmanship of ASEAN—the maiden year of both the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). The notification came as Lao PDR experiences growing international support in ASEAN and beyond. Secretary Kerry visited the country in January pledging USD 6 million to provide school meals and an increase to the current USD 19.5 million allocated to clear unexploded ordinance; President Obama’s visit for the ASEAN Summit will be the first by a US President. China has become Lao PDR’s largest overseas investor and now ranks as the country’s top trading partner. The ASEAN Secretary General met with Lao PDR’s PM on February 5th leading a team of ASEAN Secretariat staff to convey support for the country’s leadership—for which Lao PDR has adopted the theme “Turning Vision Into Reality for a Dynamic ASEAN Community”.

Following an initial regional consultation in Bangkok Thailand that attracted almost 120 delegates, participants, and speakers from 11 ASEAN countries—a 2-6 August Dili East Timor hosting of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC) / ASEAN People’s Forum (APF) 2016 has been scheduled. Connecting with East Timor’s aspiration to imminently join the regional organisation, the ACSC/APF is set to follow the theme: “Expanding People’s Solidarity for a Just and Inclusive ASEAN Community”.

As this is my first post since returning from CPD leave (17 April–06 May) I should add that those who benefit from my immigration consultancy services and who follow and support my research and community engagement initiatives will be pleased to know that I have successfully re-registered with Australia’s MARA (Migration Agent’s Registration Authority) for the April 2016-2017 period. Completing the requisite CPD accreditation allowed for engagement with Ministerial Intervention, Protection Visa, Distinguished Talent Visa, and sub-class 457 training modules. My thanks again to the good people at Legal Training Australia for their ever accommodating and dynamic training provisions—stimulating and thought provoking, even where somewhat idiosyncratic.