On the 13 August 2015 the South African Department of International Relations & Cooperation (DIRCO) joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Pretoria Committee in celebrating the 48th ASEAN day hosted by the H.E Joseph Gerald B. Angels at the Philippine Ambassador’s Residence in Pretoria. Reflecting on the history of ASEAN and the significant relations that ASEAN member states share with South Africa, H.E Joseph spoke about how ASEAN was founded by five member-nations (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines), and its current state of affairs as a ten member state organization set to be integrated into an Economic Community by January 2016.
From the past decades ASEAN’s relations with South Africa is on the rise in terms of trade and investment, tourism and people to people interaction. This was echoed by Dr Anil Sooklal Deputy Director-General of the Asia and the Middle East Branch at DIRCO, who also spoke about how South Africa’s relations with ASEAN member states has flourished since 1994, and the need to strengthen and elevate these relations into inter-regional relations between ASEAN and SADC.
South Africa has been promoting its foreign policy tracks by hosting bilateral meetings with the ASEAN member states to strengthen their relations. From 2013 to date, several bilateral meetings took place, for example: the bilateral meeting hosted by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane with her counterpart from Vietnam; an official visit to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar was undertaken by the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ebrahim Ebrahim; a state visit by President Jacob Zuma to Malaysia; and an official visit to Singapore and Indonesia by the International Relations and Cooperation Deputy Minister Nomaindiya Mfeketo.
More recent engagements between South Africa and ASEAN member states included: the Joint Declaration on a Strategic Partnership for a Peaceful and Prosperous Future was signed by South Africa and Indonesia to elevate the bilateral standing between the two countries; the signing of the first ever memorandum of understanding on science, technology and innovation between South African and Vietnam; and a recent visit by the Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam to South Africa to explore further opportunities for trade and investment with the objective of diversifying the current trade basket and ensuring a more balanced trade by reducing South Africa’s significant trade deficit with Vietnam.
While South Africa congratulates ASEAN at 48, it would be very much significant for the South African government to explore more options for diplomatic dialogues, firstly with the ASEAN Pretoria Committee as the point of contact in strengthening bilateral relations with the ASEAN member states. Secondly, South Africa has an opportunity to drive its Africa Agenda focus by advocating the creation of strategic and mutual relations between ASEAN and SADC through the ASEAN Pretoria Committee, but only if South Africa is ready/willing enough to take lead in taking this initiative further.