ASEAN leaders are considering whether to upgrade Australia to a full member of the block of The Association South East Asian Nations. Encouraged by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the idea is to integrate Australia with countries that are already vital economic partners and in so doing, allowing Australia to pivot itself from a white settler colony of the British Empire to a productive and respectful member of a wider Asia-Pacific family. However well intentioned these proposals are, they could end up spelling doom for ASEAN.
ASEAN is at present a collection of nations that were all colonised by Europeans (with the exception of Thailand) and all violently occupied by Japan. Since the end of the second world war, the nations of South East Asia pursued very different models of development, but since the founding and expansion of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), there has been a push towards an increased harmony based on the principle of peace through prosperity and interconnectivity. Unlike the top-down model of the European Union, ASEAN bases its decisions on collective discussions and compromise. Thus far, it has been a model which has proved to be popular among its members and which is in the midst of producing the most dynamic single market in the world, one that already has collective free trade deals with China, Japan, India, Australia and South Korea.
However, having a free trading agreement with important economic powers is very different from involving a nation directly in collective geopolitical and geo-economic decision making. ASEAN banded together to allow rapidly developing economies to enrich themselves through a pooling of economic might that allowed historically colonised peoples to speak in a strong, sovereign voice on the world’s stage. Inviting Australia into ASEAN would be like inviting an old master to once again push around nations that Australia’s neo-colonial leaders continue to see as inferior.
This was the attitude that the most successful leader in the history of any ASEAN nation took on board when his nation gained independence from Britain and later, when it split from Malaysia. This leader was Singapore’s founder Lee Kuan Yew (LKY). LKY rejected every variety of dogma to become a leader guided by principled pragmatism with a keen mind for problem solving. He took a swamp land whose early years were filled with political discord and race riots and transformed it into a wealthy nation with world class living standards, in which social harmony and civic peace became the rule. LKY never downplayed his desire to learn from wealthy and successful societies, including those of the west, but he at all times strove to maintain his nation’s distinct Asian identity. As a result, the former imperial masters of the west had no choice but to respect Singapore and accept its fiercely independent course of development, one whose results speak for themselves.
In spite of the generally affable traits of ordinary Australians, the Australian government is imbued with an imperial mentality that will not change, as unlike South Africa, majority rule in Australia would still mean a white government comprised of peoples of ethnic European descent. The chance that some in the Australian government would embrace a rainbow coalition of ASEAN is overwhelmed by the reality that Australia serves as America’s imperial outpost in the wider Asia-Pacific region.
The imperial realities of Australia’s government were revealed in full when in 1975, the US and UK conspired to procure what amounted to a coup against the progressive government of Gough Whitlam. Since then, the white rulers of Australia have toed the US/UK neo-imperial line without hesitation on issues ranging from Sinophobia, Islamophobia, to participation in far off wars, including the 2003 war in Iraq. If anyone thinks this kind of American hostility is good for ASEAN, one must simply realise that Australia’s geopolitical function is that of an American wolf in a kangaroo’s clothing.
Australia would not join ASEAN in order to atone for its colonial sins of the past, it would join ASEAN in order to give the United States a direct say in the affairs of South East Asian countries. This is completely unacceptable as it would undermine the very purpose of ASEAN.
By all means, ASEAN should continue to trade freely with Australia and work cooperatively on specific issues where this is advisable, but under no means should a white majority government that is little more than an American satellite state in terms of foreign policy, be allowed to influence the path of development among a group of Asian states.
ASEAN leaders who think otherwise, are simply being naive. It is inconceivable for Japan to be invited into ASEAN and even among ASEAN states with partly ethnic Chinese populations, it would be inconceivable for China to be invited into ASEAN. Australia, should not be viewed as a benign country in terms of its foreign policy. It has joined the biggest imperialists in the world during every major war that has transpired during its existence as a self-governed commonwealth.
The current relationship between ASEAN and Australia is more than sufficient. Anything more would be an insult to the very values upon which ASEAN was founded. Today, more than any other ASEAN leader, it is President Rodrigo Duterte of The Philippines that best embodies the pragmatic, patriotic approach of LYK. Duterte is willing to trade with all respectful partners and make peace with those where there were once disputes, but at no time is he willing to surrender his nation’s dignity to any would be master. As Duterte said “I do not have any master except the Filipino people, nobody, but nobody”. All of ASEAN should learn this important lesson from Duterte today and Singapore’s LKY before him.