Southeast Asia, Australia Vow to Unite Against Trade Protectionism

Updated on
  • Communique released at end of Asean leaders’ meeting in Sydney
  • Singapore’s Lee ‘cautiously encouraged’ by Trump-Kim meeting

JPMorgan's Ward Says Tariff Discussion Could be 'Heated'

Southeast Asian nations and Australia vowed to unite in opposing protectionism, while also using their summit in Sydney to urge North Korea to denuclearize immediately.

“We are committed to free and open markets,” the final communique from the first Australia-Asean Special Summit, held in Sydney, said on Sunday. They pledged to resist “all forms of protectionism.”

Markets were rattled earlier this month after Gary Cohn resigned as President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser following the announcement of tariffs on U.S. imports of steel and aluminum. Bloomberg Economics estimates a full-blown global trade war could wipe $470 billion off global gross domestic product by 2020.

On North Korea, Asean and Australia agreed that the nation’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs were a threat to the region and urged “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.”

Read a primer on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions here.

With concern about North Korea’s nuclear program rising, U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month signaled he will agree to meet with his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un within months to solve the long-brewing stand off.

“We are cautiously encouraged by these developments,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters after the summit. “We hope these recent steps will contribute toward lasting peace and stability.”

Asean and Australia emphasized the importance on non-militarization in the region, and called for an early conclusion of an effective code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Read here about Chinese hacking attacks on U.S. engineering and defense companies

The U.S. has criticized China for land reclamation and other moves to assert control over areas also claimed in part by Southeast Asian countries.

During the Summit, Australia and Asean signed an agreement to enhance intelligence sharing and disrupt terrorists’ ability to communicate through digital messaging. It comes as concerns grow throughout Southeast Asia about the influence of Islamic State-inspired terrorists returning from the Middle East, with Indonesia and Philippines seen by experts as vulnerable to attack. 

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told the summit on Saturday the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state was creating a recruiting ground for Islamic State. It’s now a security threat to Southeast Asia and can no longer be thought of as a domestic matter, he said.

Read here about the Myanmar investment climate amid the Rohingya refugee crisis

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi will meet Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Monday. Turnbull confirmed the Summit leaders discussed the matter of the ethnic violence with her on Sunday.

“It’s a very complex problem,” Turnbull told reporters, adding it was a humanitarian disaster. “Everyone seeks to end the suffering that has been occasioned by the events, the conflict, the dislocation.”

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