PNGAA Library

PNG's integration into ASEAN: John Quinn

Whilst enjoying a relaxing break away from freezing Victoria on a warm, tropical Malaysian Island, I was intrigued to read a series of headline articles on PNG in the Malaysian papers The New Straits Times and The Star. On my return, not a single article on PNG and these events in Australian papers!

The articles had to do with PNG’s desire to become a full member state of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) by the end of 2015; at the moment, PNG has only observer status, which it has held since 1981. Malaysia hosted the ASEAN 2015 meeting from 1 to 6 August.

ASEAN was formed in 1967. The full member countries are Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Philippnes, Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia, Cambodia and Brunei, with a combined population of 625 million and a nominal GDP of US$2.6 trillion. If it were a single entity, it would be the seventh largest economy in the world, after the US, China, Japan, Germany, France and the UK. ASEAN has plans to establish a form of Common Market, to promote the free movement of skilled labour, the integration of stock exchanges and to visa-free travel between member states by the end of the year.

Obviously, it would appear that PNG wants to ‘get with the strength’ by integrating with this rising economic and political grouping.

The PNG delegation was led by Ambassador Peter H Ilau, who doubles as the Ambassador to Indonesia. In interviews with the Malaysian papers he stated that PNG offers 'ASEAN a platform into Melanesia and South Pacific Island markets’. He went on to say ‘through the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) it can tap the potential of that group’s member countries which also include Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands’. All these countries have a lot of raw commodities such as agricultural products whilst PNG has vast quantities of oil, gas and minerals of great value and interest to ASEAN.

It was notable that the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, was pictured at this huge gathering, whilst the European Union sent its Foreign Policy and Security Policy Chief, Federica Magherini, to address the delegates; even Norway sent a representative who was ‘optimistic in establishing a formal partner with ASEAN’.

Yet whilst PNG realizes the potential of ASEAN and the economic and other benefits to be found in integrating with the group, one could well wonder where the interests of Australia lie. Australia is only a peripheral member of a loose grouping of 27 current participants in something called the ASEAN Regional Forum which our Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, condescended to attend on 5 and 6 August and which didn’t even rate a mention in the Malaysian press.

Good to see PNG making its own way onto the world stage.