YPFP Brussels: ''Your Far East is our Near North''

Posted on August 1, 2013

Remarks from the Australian Ambassador to the EU, NATO, Belgium and Luxembourg

Imagine yourself transported from the Brussels world of institutional politics, to being a desk officer in a foreign service in Beijing. The geopolitical landscape will suddenly look a lot different. As a young student, Ambassador Duncan Lewis, Australian Ambassador to the EU, NATO, Belgium and Luxembourg came to see Europe’s ‘Far East’ as Australia’s ‘Near North’ and advised YPFP’s members to consider this shift of perspective.

After a 33 year long career in the military, including service in East Timor, Indonesia, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, and a distinguished career in the Australian public service, as Australia’s first National Security Adviser, Ambassador Lewis is now Australia’s top representative in Brussels.


From the Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific

“Any major policy in Australia takes as its starting point the principle that the economic rise of the Indo Pacific is reshaping the world order” Lewis explained. The rise of Asia has and continues to be unambiguously a time of great opportunity for Australia. Notwithstanding the clear opportunities, with the rising middle classes throughout the region, also comes rising defence expenditure. The Ambassador noted that China’s defence spending doubles every five years and could equal the US by 2030, with India and Vietnam increasing their defence expenditure by 17% and 34% respectively per year.

This expenditure increase comes at a time when there are numerous flashpoints in the Asia-Pacific, from the South China Sea to the Korean Peninsula and long-standing disputes over the interpretation of history and resource exploitation. “Like Europe in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the Indo Pacific region lacks the diplomatic framework or habits for dealing with simmering crises,” Lewis cautioned.

While we live in a multipolar world, it was clear to Lewis that more than any other, the relationship between the United States and China will determine the outlook for international security and prosperity.  However he added “some competition is inevitable, but both seek stability, not conflict” and that simply put, “Australia does not believe that it must choose between its longstanding alliance with the United States and its expanding strategic relationship with China.''

A critical role to be played by the region, and indeed Europe, is on ensuring maritime security in the Indian Ocean. A fundamental part of the global maritime trading system, the Indian Ocean is now surpassing the Pacific and the Atlantic as the world’s busiest trade corridor. Ambassador Lewis predicted “the Indian Ocean can also serve as a model for other more troubled regions as to how to manage maritime issues through cooperation.”


Australia and the EU: Old Friends

The Australia-Europe relationship remains critical as well and Lewis said that Australia’s cooperation with the EU and NATO provides insights into Europe’s strategic policy. Australia was building a strong security relationship with NATO through cooperation in Afghanistan and with the EU through concluding negotiations on an Australia-EU Crisis Management Agreement. Lewis said Australia and the EU had just concluded a delegated cooperation agreement for development aid. “To begin this process, the EU will delegate aid funding to Australia for a project in Fiji andAustralia has delegated aid to the EU in the South Sudan,” he explained.


And Lewis’ advice to young professionals looking to maximise their opportunities in a new Asian Century? “You take any opportunity you can to experience Asian business and culture first-hand. Do a ‘hardship posting’ if you see it that way, but the experience will be the most useful thing you can get.”


Ambassador Lewis spoke to YPFP Brussels on 18th July 2013 as part of the branch’s Ambassador Series.