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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

1.1.2 South-East Asia


The department advanced Australia’s South-East Asian interests through support for high-level engagement with key countries in the region, including during visits by Indonesian President, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, East Timorese President Dr José Ramos-Horta, and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Mr Nong Duc Manh.

During 2009–10, we worked to encourage close practical cooperation with key regional partners, focusing on economic and people-to-people links. Achievements included the conclusion of a Comprehensive Partnership with Vietnam, the entry into force of the Agreement establishing the ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) on 1 January 2010 and the strengthening of our strategic partnership with Indonesia.

We played an active role in regional architecture, coordinating a major conference in December 2009 to discuss the Government’s Asia Pacific community proposal. This conference and related advocacy contributed directly to wider, regional efforts to continue to enhance regional arrangements. As part of this, we supported ongoing development of the East Asia Summit (EAS).


The department played a key role in supporting the state visit of Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono in March 2010, which underlined the strength of the bilateral relationship and its growing strategic importance and set the stage for further developing bilateral ties. The President’s delegation was the largest and most wide-ranging Indonesian Government delegation ever to visit Australia. The then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and President Yudhoyono agreed to upgrade the Australia–Indonesia relationship to a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’. The leaders agreed to meet annually, and decided that foreign and defence ministers of both countries would meet each year in a so-called ‘2+2’ arrangement. To strengthen links between Australia and Indonesia in areas such as education, culture, media, business and sport, leaders agreed to establish an Australia–Indonesia Leadership Dialogue.

The President and Mr Rudd also agreed on the need to accelerate and deepen the integration of the Australian and Indonesian economies. During President Yudhoyono’s visit, Mr Crean and Indonesia’s Minister for Trade, Dr Mari Pangestu, participated in a well-attended high-level business forum in Sydney. We continued to discuss the possible launch of negotiations on an Economic Partnership Agreement with Indonesia.

Following agreement between the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, and his Indonesian counterpart, Dr Marty Natalegawa, on a framework for improving consular access and assistance for each country to its nationals, we organised two rounds of consular consultations.


Goods and services
Trend growth 2004–2009
Trend growth 2004–2009
East Timor(b)
Total South-East Asia

(a) Goods data on a recorded trade basis, services data on a balance of payments basis.
(b) Goods data only. Services data is not published by the ABS for East Timor.
Based on DFAT STARS database and ABS catalogue 5368.0.55.004.

Photo - See caption below for description
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, meeting with the Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Marty Natalegawa, at Parliament House in Canberra on 9 March 2010.
Photo: Auspic

In the aftermath of the Jakarta hotel bombings in July 2009, we supported the visit to Indonesia by Mr Smith. We also supported the attendance by Mr Smith, together with Mr Rudd, at President Yudhoyono’s inauguration in October 2009, and subsequent travel by Mr Smith to Sumatra, where Indonesian and Australian defence forces had earlier worked together on the Op Padang Assist earthquake response effort.

Visits by two Chairs of influential Indonesian Parliamentary Commissions under our Special Visits Program helped strengthen understanding and common interests. The visit by the Vice-Director of Indonesia’s largest newspaper group, and founder of the country’s largest basketball team, advanced people-to-people links (see sub-program 1.1.13).

At the request of the Australian and Indonesian foreign ministers, we completed a stocktake of people-to-people links between the two countries as a basis to deepen and broaden people-to-people exchanges.

We supported the Australia–Indonesia Institute in building stronger links between the people of Australia and Indonesia in order to strengthen mutual understanding and promote positive images of each country in the other. In 2009–10 the focus was on building links in education, interfaith, and arts and culture (see sub-program 1.1.13).


Photo - See caption below for description
The then Minister for Trade, Mr Crean, the Minister for Defence, Senator Faulkner and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, with their Singaporean counterparts Mr George Yeo (Minister for Foreign Affairs), Mr Teo Chee Hean (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence) and Mr Lim Hng Kiang (Minister for Trade and Industry) speaking to the press after the Sixth Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee meeting in Singapore on 27 July 2009.
Photo: Roslan Rahman / AFP

The department led Australia’s response to the uncertain political environment in Thailand, which included major protests and political violence in central Bangkok in April and May 2010. The Australian embassy in Bangkok maintained its core functions throughout the crisis, but was closed to visitors for a period because of its proximity to conflict areas.

We continued to advocate renewed negotiations for further trade and investment liberalisation under the Thailand–Australia Free Trade Agreement. These negotiations would cover services, investment, business mobility, competition and government procurement. Under our Special Visits Program, we hosted a senior Ministry of Finance spokesperson, as part of our promotion of links between Australian and Thai economic and business communities. We also supported the Australia–Thailand Institute in its work to strengthen people-to-people and institutional links (see sub-program 1.1.13).


Our support for high-level visits to Singapore continued. We managed visits to Singapore by Mr Smith, Mr Crean and the Minister for Defence, Senator Faulkner, to participate in the Singapore–Australia Joint Ministerial Committee meeting in July 2009, providing an opportunity for strategic discussion on a wide range of bilateral and regional interests. At that meeting, Mr Crean and Singaporean Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr Lim Hng Kiang, announced the conclusion of the second review of the substantive elements of the Singapore–Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). This marked the culmination of extensive negotiations undertaken by the department (see sub-program 1.1.7). We also facilitated an inaugural business dialogue, co-hosted by Mr Crean and Mr Lim. We maintained a close, constructive dialogue with Singapore on regional architecture issues of importance to both countries. These discussions continued during the official visit to Australia by Singaporean Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr George Yeo, in June 2010.


Photo - See caption below for description
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, speaks to students during a visit to Aminuddin Baki Secondary School on 7 July 2009. The school is a participant in the Australia-Malaysia Institute Sister School Program.

Helping enhance the strategic depth in our bilateral relationship with Malaysia, the department supported a number of high-level visits there. These included a key visit by the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, in July 2009. The department also supported a visit by Mr Smith in July 2009 for the inaugural Australia–Malaysia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. We implemented a range of activities arising from that visit, including expanding the sister schools program and enhancing sports cooperation through the Australia–Malaysia Institute (see sub-program 1.1.13).

We arranged the Australia–Malaysia Joint Trade Committee meeting in Melbourne in August 2009. This included discussion between Mr Crean and Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry, Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed, about Malaysia–Australia Free Trade Agreement negotiations (see sub-program 1.1.7). As a result of the Joint Trade Committee meeting, we supported the Treasury in negotiating and finalising a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in conventional and Islamic finance. In April 2010, our Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism reached agreement with Malaysian Home Affairs Minister, Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, to establish a bilateral counter-terrorism working group meeting, which will bring together relevant Australian and Malaysian agencies to provide a strategic framework for developing future counter-terrorism cooperation.

The Philippines

The department helped coordinate Australia’s support for security and stability in the Philippines, which included development assistance, defence and counter-terrorism cooperation and encouragement of a sustained commitment by all parties to the Mindanao peace process negotiations.

During the May 2010 presidential, national and local elections, we organised a joint elections visit program with Japan and Indonesia, under the auspices of the Bali Democracy Forum, fielding election observers throughout the Philippines.

We also advanced bilateral commitments made at the 2008 Philippines–Australia Ministerial Meeting. This included holding senior officials’ talks on mining.


Working on a whole-of-government basis, we played a key role in finalising the Comprehensive Partnership between Australia and Vietnam. This was signed by the two Deputy Prime Ministers in September 2009, during the official visit by the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Mr Nong Duc Manh. In its role as ASEAN chair for 2010, we engaged closely with Vietnam on a range of regional and multilateral issues.

We supported Mr Crean’s participation in the eighth Joint Trade and Economic Cooperation Committee (JTECC) in Hanoi in July 2009 and in the ninth JTECC in Melbourne in June 2010. These meetings advanced Australia’s trade and investment interests in Vietnam in the areas of financial services, education and training, resources and infrastructure. The Minister for Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Madame Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, visited in June 2010, undertaking a high-level program coordinated by the department.

The bilateral strategic dialogue and the Australia–Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue were held in Hanoi, in August 2009 and December 2009 respectively (see sub-programs 1.1.10 and 1.1.9).

East Timor

Photo - See caption below for description
The then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and East Timorese President, Dr José Ramos-Horta, speaking at a press conference in Canberra on 23 June 2010.
Photo: Andrew Taylor / Getty Images News

The department continued to coordinate Australia’s whole-of-government efforts to build a stable and more prosperous East Timor, including through the International Stabilisation Force (ISF) and the UN police, as well as by providing capacity-building support for the East Timorese police and army.

The department made progress during 2009–10 on a number of issues: a negotiated drawdown of our deployment to the ISF in light of improved security; the renewal of the mandate for the UN Integrated Mission in East Timor (UNMIT); and formal approval from both countries for the development of the Kitan oilfield in the Joint Petroleum Development Area. We also continued to engage East Timor on the development of the shared Greater Sunrise petroleum resource, but, while the commercial operator has announced its preferred development option, the issue remains unresolved.

Highlights for the bilateral relationship were the visit to Australia by East Timorese President, Dr José Ramos-Horta, in June 2010, and the visit by the Governor-General to East Timor in August 2009. We facilitated the fifth Australia–East Timor–Indonesia trilateral meeting at foreign ministers’ level in New York in September 2009.

Other bilateral relationships

The department continued to support the judicial process to bring to trial former Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia. We also supported the official visit of the senior Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia, Mr Sar Kheng, in May 2010, which deepened bilateral relations and advanced cooperation on security issues.

Under a bilateral human rights initiative, we provided support for the May 2010 appearance by Laos at its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) under the United Nations Human Rights Council and facilitated a civil society workshop in Vientiane on the UPR process. We sponsored a visit by the Lao Vice-Minister for Industry and Commerce, Madame Khemmani Pholsena, which deepened economic cooperation as Laos moves ahead with its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

We supported the first visit by an Australian parliamentary delegation to Brunei. In May 2010, we hosted a visit to Australia by the Permanent Secretary of Brunei’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, with a focus on Islam in Australia, interfaith dialogue and expanding education links.

We helped develop Mr Smith’s major statement to Parliament on Burma and supported the Government’s response to the conviction of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi in August 2009. Australia’s Chargé d’Affaires in Rangoon, together with representatives of the US and UK embassies, met Ms Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2009 to discuss sanctions. This was the first contact by an Australian official with Ms Aung San Suu Kyi since 2003. We were unable to secure a further meeting. We implemented the Government’s financial sanctions and travel restrictions against members of the Burmese regime.

ASEAN and regional issues

In December 2009, the department coordinated the Government’s Asia Pacific community (APc) conference in Sydney, which advanced and deepened discussions among Asia-Pacific countries on strengthening regional institutions. Subsequently, we supported diplomatic efforts by Mr Rudd and Mr Smith to gain support from key countries for reforms to regional architecture to achieve the strategic objectives of the Government’s APc initiative. Regional discussions, generated in part by this initiative, led to a decision by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in April 2010 to encourage the United States and Russia to deepen their engagement in evolving regional architecture.

We coordinated Australia’s participation in the EAS. Working with other agencies, we made a substantial contribution to progressing EAS priorities, notably on regional financial cooperation and economic integration, disaster response and education cooperation.

A significant outcome that advanced Australia’s trade interests in the region was the entry into force on 1 January 2010 of the Agreement Establishing the AANZFTA (see sub-program 1.1.7). The department played a key role in securing positive outcomes at the fourth EAS, held on 25 October 2009 in Hua Hin, Thailand. This was reflected in the Chair’s Statement, which advanced Australian strategic priorities, including securing an EAS Finance Ministers’ meeting and consideration of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia.


FIGURE 9. Australia’s trade in goods and services with ASEAN

(a) Goods data on a recorded trade basis, services data on a balance of payments basis.
Based on DFAT STARS database and ABS catalogue 5368.0.55.004.

We coordinated the fifth Regional Interfaith Dialogue which was held in Perth on 28–30 October 2009. The Dialogue was attended by 146 delegates from 14 countries. With its theme ‘future faith leaders’, the Dialogue contributed to mutual respect and understanding among the diverse faith groups of the region.


The department will continue to accord priority to Australia’s relationships with ASEAN, its member countries and East Timor. This will include supporting high-level exchanges between governments and encouraging people-to-people engagement and cooperation. We will provide advice to the Government as Burma conducts its first election in 20 years.

We will also continue to work closely with South-East Asian countries to support the ongoing evolution of regional architecture and integration in a way that meets the emerging requirements of the region.

The department will work to open new markets, reduce barriers to trade and improve access for Australian business in South-East Asia. This work will include negotiations towards a new bilateral agreement with Malaysia, potential Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations with Indonesia and efforts to continually improve existing agreements (including with Singapore and Thailand). We will support the implementation of AANZFTA as well as regional efforts towards an EAS-wide FTA through the Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia proposal.

Next page: 1.1.3 Americas
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