I will follow you all the way to your doorstep and beat you right there.… I can use violence against you.
–Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly threatening violence against any protesters in Australia who burn effigies of him, Phnom Penh, February 21, 2018
On March 17-18, 2018, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will host government leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Sydney at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit. The summit will be preceded by a business summit and a counterterrorism meeting to “strengthen our joint contribution to regional security and prosperity, including by addressing shared security challenges and securing greater opportunities.”
For decades, the Australian government has viewed ASEAN as an important economic, security, and political partner, and has forged closer ties with ASEAN countries as they have undergone major economic and political changes. Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper, released in November 2017, underscores the importance of Australia’s relations with its ASEAN neighbors, saying: “Australia places high priority on our bilateral relationships in Southeast Asia and on our support for ASEAN. The Government is enhancing engagement with the region to support an increasingly prosperous, outwardly-focused, stable and resilient Southeast Asia.”
As global power dynamics shift, United States influence in the region is declining while the political, economic, and military clout of a more assertive China is increasing. In this strategic context, Australia has decided to pursue closer ties with ASEAN countries.
Some ASEAN countries have enjoyed significant economic growth in recent years, but as the chapters below show, many have increasingly serious human rights problems. At a high-level summit of this kind, it would be a major setback for citizens of ASEAN countries for the Australian government to gloss over human rights issues in the hopes of winning over the region’s leaders away from China.