On 6 August 2019 the Griffith Asia Institute hosted the third Australia-Japan-India Trilateral with the generous support of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japanese Consulate-General in Brisbane. This dialogue was the third since the Australia-Japan-India series first launched in 2017 and focused on the theme leadership, partnership and ASEAN centrality in the Indo-Pacific.

Previous dialogues have discussed the rules-based order and evolving strategic dynamics in the region. This year the program was notably different, with the inclusion of a number of leading Southeast Asian voices at the table. The dialogue sought to interrogate emerging perspectives on the Indo-Pacific and assess the challenges and potential for leadership and partnership-building in support of an inclusive Indo-Pacific.

As Australia’s former foreign minister, Julie Bishop (2018) observed, “Geographically, diplomatically and strategically, ASEAN sits at the heart” of the Indo-Pacific. Southeast Asian nations have taken some time to warm to the Indo-Pacific concept, but in June this year they released the much anticipated ‘Outlook on the Indo-Pacific’, articulating their vision and defining the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean regions as a single connected region. This firmly positions ASEAN as the linchpin of the Indo-Pacific.

Australia, Japan and India have demonstrated leadership in establishing the narrative of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ over recent years. The Indo-Pacific is now the site of multiple bilateral and trilateral security links and partnerships that provide a useful foundation upon which further practical partnerships within the region may be forged. But to realise the vision of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ requires the inclusion and engagement of other partners, and ASEAN is pivotal to any debate concerning the future of the Indo-Pacific.

The central themes explored on the day included:

– Changing leadership dynamics of the Indo-Pacific and the implications for the strategic landscape
– Prospects for ASEAN leadership in the Indo-Pacific
– The risks and rewards of a more inclusive Indo-Pacific
– The sources of challenge and disruption facing effective leadership of the region’s security landscape

The dialogue was attended by academics from Australia, Japan, India, Singapore and Indonesia, members of Australia and ASEAN’s foreign policy and security community, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Consulate General of Japan (Brisbane). Discussions from the day will inform policy debates and foster research collaborations within and between our respective institutions.

The Griffith Asia Institute will publish a policy brief and discussion paper from the trilateral discussions addressing key thematic issues in the coming weeks.