ASEAN’s Security Challenges in an Era of Surging Great Power Influence: A View from Australia


This is a listing of older East-West Center events (newer listed first).  See Events to get the list of current or upcoming events.

When: Mar 31 2015 - 2:30pm until Mar 31 2015 - 4:00pm
Where: 1819 L Street, NW, Washington, DC, Sixth Floor Conference Room

ASEAN’s Security Challenges in an Era of Surging Great Power Influence: A View from Australia

An Asia Pacific Foreign Policy and Defense Seminar featuring:

Dr. John Blaxland
Senior Fellow, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC),
College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University (ANU)

Dr. Pek Koon Heng-Blackburn (Moderator)
Director, ASEAN Studies Center, American University

ASEAN’s Security Challenges in an Era of Surging Great Power Influence: A View from Australia from East-West Center on Vimeo.

Dr. John Blaxland Senior Fellow, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC), College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University (ANU)

The Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, was formed at the height of the Cold War and since then has grown in size and significance. In the post-Cold War period it emerged as a central institution around which other forums were built. Australia has been a close partner with ASEAN since its inception. As ASEAN matured, Australia’s approach to engagement with South East Asia shifted from seeking security from the region to security in and with the region. But today ASEAN is being buffeted by the re-emergence of regional great power rivalry, with security challenges threatening to undermine the centrality of ASEAN. So, how significant nowadays is ASEAN to regional security and economic development? And how useful are the various forums that have been built in and around ASEAN? Competing great power pressures point to a precarious future for ASEAN unless member countries and ASEAN’s key regional partners exercise greater cohesion and integration.

To help understand the significance of ASEAN for the future of East and South East Asia, Dr. Blaxland explored these issues from an Australian perspective. Describing ASEAN as Autralia's "Near North" as opposed to its "Far East," he outlined the strategic and economic chokepoints in the ASEAN region, particularly those that could be affected by ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea. While a few of these claims centered on "playing catch up" with China, which is "rebalancing" towards the region in its own way to protect its security and economic interests, disputes, both maritime and on the mainland, exist between ASEAN member countries. One such sticking point involves the Gulf of Thailand, which is in dispute between Thailand and Cambodia in large part due to conflicting US and British maps. Such tensions between ASEAN member countries are exacerbated by numerous cultural, ethnic, political, and historical differences both between and within the countries. While many ASEAN states are a part of similar security and trade partnerships, including RCEP and the TPP, there is no one overarching agreement that unites all ASEAN members. Combining all of these factors with increased great power interests in the region as China, Russia, and Japan seek to exert more military and economic influence, ASEAN is becoming more and more of a fulcrum for South and Southeast Asia's relations with both regional and outside powers.

It is this growing turn of events that caused Dr. Blaxland to emphatically state that Australia needs to pay more attention to ASEAN and its member countries. While stressing that Australia's partnership with the United States continues to remain important, he suggested that both the United States and Australia would be better served if Australia turned its attentions from the conflicts in the Middle East to improving its relations with ASEAN. He referenced Australia's prickly relationship with Indonesia, brought on by disagreements over displaced persons, exports of beef, and revelations of diplomatic mistrust in the leaks by Edward Snowden among other issues, as a key issue that must be resolved for the betterment of Australia's relations with ASEAN. In relations with all of the countries, continuity and respect on Australia's part would go a long way to strengthening ties. Dr. Blaxland also highlighted the progress, albeit slow progress, that has been taking place over the past decade in ASEAN thanks to its regional meetings. To continue this trend, he advocated for a stronger Secretary General "with teeth" to push forward agendas and mandates that the region so desperately needs. 

 For more images, please visit the album for this event on the East-West Center's Flickr page. 

Dr. John Blaxland is a Senior Fellow at ANU’s SDSC. He holds a PhD (War Studies, Royal Military College of Canada), an MA (History, ANU), a BA (Hons, UNSW) and is a graduate of the Royal Thai Army Command and Staff College. He is a former Chief Staff Officer for Joint Intelligence Operations (J2), at Australia’s Headquarters Joint Operations Command and was Australia’s Defence Attaché to Thailand and Burma from 2008-2010. He is the author of The Australian Army from Whitlam to Howard (CUP, 2014) and “Australia, Indonesia and Southeast Asia” in Dean, et. al., Australia’s Defence: Towards a New Era? (MUP, 2014). He is also a regular columnist in The Canberra Times and East Asia Forum. His other monographs include Strategic Cousins (2006), Revisiting Counterinsurgency (2006), Information era Manoeuvre (2002), Signals (1999) and Organising an Army (1989). In 2014 he was selected to receive a Minerva Research Initiative grant to undertake a study entitled “Thailand's Military, the USA and China: Understanding how the Thai Military Perceives the Great Powers and Implications for the US Rebalance”.

Dr. Pek Koon Heng- Blackburn teaches courses on International Relations and International Political Economy in Southeast and East Asia. She also directs SIS’s summer graduate program on “Globalization and Regionalism in East Asia” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In addition, she runs the Insular Southeast Asia Advanced Area Studies Program at the State Department Foreign Service Institute (as a contractor), which prepares US Foreign Service Officers for assignments in the region. Dr. Heng has previously taught at Auckland University in New Zealand, Hull University in England, the National University of Malaysia, and Temple University Japan. She was also a Visiting Professor at Peking University, and a Visiting Fellow at the both the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, and the Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. She received her PhD from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies and her MA and BA from Auckland University. 

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Sarah Batiuk
Phone: 202-327-9755