It is my pleasure to be here in Kuala Lumpur participating in the PMC for the second time. Last year’s meeting came just a few months after the Coalition Government came to office in Australia and was for me an impressive introduction to the influential world of ASEAN affairs. The ARF/PMC forum offers an unparalleled opportunity for Australia to listen to, and exchange views with, both our nearest neighbours and other friends from around the world. Since that last meeting, I have travelled widely in the region and my experiences dealing with ASEAN countries have enhanced my understanding and my admiration for your acclaimed Organisation.
ASEAN’s decision to embrace two new members at this time is another step towards realising the vision of ASEAN’s founders, and I look forward to the time when the situation in Cambodia permits all ten South East Asian nations to sit down together as members of ASEAN. Australia knows the new members well. Our strong and close links with Laos have been built on more than forty years of unbroken diplomatic relations.
We have also maintained diplomatic relations with Myanmar. Australia remains ready to work towards an improved relationship should circumstances in Myanmar permit it, though we are disappointed with the pace of reform in Myanmar over the past twelve months. Australia believes strongly that a negotiated settlement is the only long-term solution to the situation in Myanmar. We urge other ASEAN members to encourage genuine political and human rights reform in Myanmar. Unless this happens Myanmar, like Cambodia, will remain an exception to the impressive regional trend of increased security and prosperity.
As one of the architects of the Paris Peace Accords, the Australian Government has a deep and abiding interest in developments in Cambodia. We were very concerned by the resort to military force to impose political change, and by the reports of summary executions of some of those associated with Prince Ranariddh.
Australia supports ASEAN’s initiative to promote consultation and reconciliation among Cambodia’s political leaders and will maintain a dialogue with ASEAN on this issue. On its part, the Australian Government is looking to the Cambodian government to implement the assurances it has given concerning the Cambodian constitution; the formation of a broadly based government involving the participation and support of representatives of FUNCINPEC; the holding of free and fair national elections next year; and respect for human rights and the rule of law. The Australian Government reiterates its call for all parties in Cambodia to desist from resort to violence and armed force. Efficient implementation of these commitments will be a crucial determinant of the type of relationship the Australian Government will be able to develop with Cambodia. They are also the critical matters that will be taken into account as we review the continuation of our civil aid projects, and whether we maintain the suspension of our military cooperation programs.
ASEAN Regional Cooperation
My Government welcomes the increased pace of ASEAN economic cooperation, and with it the trade and investment facilitation and liberalisation endeavours such as the proposed ASEAN Investment Area, the ASEAN Industrial Cooperation scheme, and AFTA enhancements. In particular, we welcome the evolution of ASEAN investment facilitation schemes, given the remaining impediments to foreign investment in ASEAN countries. We would like to encourage ASEAN to create investment incentive schemes which offer equal treatment to non-ASEAN and ASEAN investors, in accordance with APEC and WTO objectives. Australian exporters would also like to see ASEAN countries continue to unilaterally reduce their MFN tariff rates at the same time as they implement AFTA tariff reductions.
International Political Issues
Turning to international issues, Australia remains deeply concerned about the current impasse in the Middle East peace process. We support the negotiation of a just, enduring and comprehensive peace settlement and have consistently urged the parties to resume direct negotiations. We fear further outbreaks of violence may occur without such talks.
In Bosnia, Australia continues to support the full implementation of the Dayton peace process. However we are disturbed to see the persistence of incidents of violence, limited freedom of movement and the failure to bring indicted war criminals to trial. Australia supports the US and Europeans in urging Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to make greater efforts to work for a lasting settlement in the region.
International Economic Issues
Australia welcomed the outcome of the November 1996 APEC Ministerial and Leaders Meetings it proved an effective start to the process of translating the vision of APEC into actions. The 1996 Individual Action Plans (IAPs), tabled in Manila by APEC members, were encouraging as they went beyond members’ Uruguay Round commitments. The challenge in 1997, and beyond, will be to improve our IAPS, in what will be an incremental process taking us towards 2010/2020.
This will be an important issue this year in terms of both maintaining APEC’s trade liberalisation momentum and giving impetus to global liberalisation. Australia welcomes the early voluntary sectoral liberalisation process now underway and will be supporting this initiative, including through nominations in the energy and non-ferrous metals sectors.
Australia has responded directly to the trade facilitation agenda, an important complement to the liberalisation process, by introducing the APEC Business Travel Card now being trialed between Australia, Korea and the Philippines.
In the areas of economic and technical cooperation (ecotech) we welcome the Declaration on Strengthening Economic Cooperation and Development endorsed by Ministers and Leaders last November. This should give APEC’s ecotech agenda clearer goals and priorities in key areas such as infrastructure, sustainable development and human resource development. APEC’s economic and technical cooperation agenda plays an important complementary role in achieving APEC’s trade and investment goals.
Finally, Australia attaches a high priority to encouraging greater private sector investment in economic infrastructure and hopes APEC will deliver significant outcomes in this area during 1997.
In the WTO forum, Australia’s hopes that the 1998 WTO Ministerial Conference will promote the launch of a new round of comprehensive multilateral trade negotiations by the end of the century.
In financial services Australia is committed to working for a successful MFN conclusion to the WTO financial services negotiations. We attach a high priority to further liberalising the Korean, Indian and ASEAN markets.
Australia considers that a particular challenge for the WTO is to ensure that regional trade arrangements support rather than conflict with the WTO and the multilateral trading system.
This year’s G7 Summit in Denver continued the trend, begun at the 1996 Summit in Lyons, away from economic concerns to cover global political issues. Of most interest to Australia were the discussions on environmental issues, in particular greenhouse gas emissions. Despite considerable EU pressure, the Summit did not set binding targets for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We were pleased to see that the Communique call for “meaningful, realistic and equitable targets”, These fundamentals are fully consistent with the principle of equity that underpin Australia’s strong advocacy of differentiated targets.
However, we were disappointed, though not surprised, about the language calling for legally binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to be set in Kyoto. Our position on legally binding targets is very clear – we consider it premature to insist chat such targets be legally binding. We will not accept legally binding targets until their nature and content and impacts on Australia are clear.
Australia recognises that climate change is a serious environmental threat and is prepared to cooperate with other countries to address the problem. But action to address climate change must not impose a disproportionate burden on particular countries.
Narcotics and Money Laundering
Australia resolutely supports national and international measures to control drug abase and illicit drug trafficking in the region. Australia’s international narcotics policy seeks to achieve a reduction and eventual elimination in the production, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs world-wide. In the context of this meeting we would like to see more regular discussion between ASEAN and ASEAN dialogue countries aimed at developing a coordinated approach to regional narcotics issues. This concerted and coordinated approach could be used to assist and encourage countries in the region to accede to the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs add Psychotropic substances.
The concomitant problem of money laundering is another major concern of regional governments – not only as an international crime issue but also for the adverse effect it can have on banking and financial systems. The Australian Government is utterly committed to the fight against organised crime. We have been the driving force behind the establishment in February of the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering and have put considerable resources into the initiative. In the area of narcotics and money laundering it is imperative that international cooperation is strengthened.
Terrorism continues to be driven more by ethnic, religious and territorial grievances than by ideology. Sustained pressure by the US and others against states considered to sponsor terrorism has further reduced the number of incidents. The international community generally has developed more effective countermeasures against terrorism, and better systems of detection are in place. Terrorists now have fewer places of sanctuary.
While the Asia-Pacific region has not been the principal focus of terrorist activities, we should certainly not be complacent – the attack committed by the Japanese Aum Supreme Truth Sect in Tokyo and the presence this group was subsequently found to have in WA is just one illustration of this danger facing the region.
Australia has been largely, though not fully, isolated from international terrorism. The 2000 Olympic Games will provide a major security challenge for Australia. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as well as the Defence Forces, are actively addressing on the security aspects of the Games.
We urge all countries, not only those represented here today, to accede to the international conventions which commit signatories to act against terrorism.
In conclusion I would like to thank out host and Chairman, foreign Minister Abdullah Badawi, for organising this year’s ASEAN Regional Forum and Post Ministerial Conference. This impressive suite of meetings offers all participants unparalleled opportunities for discussion and dialogue on issues of regional and international concern. Indeed, in Australia we have come to think of these meetings as offering one of the best policy marketplaces on our foreign policy calendar.