SYDNEY - Australia will elevate its engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and seek to more closely align its foreign policy with that of the bloc, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Friday.
In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Carr said Australia, which last weekend released a comprehensive blueprint for enhancing its ties with Asia, recognised ASEAN's "centrality in the region".
"I am quite happy to be associated with a shift (in Australia's level of engagement)," Carr said.
"I think we need to ease into habits of consultation with ASEAN as a grouping and with its individual members and also relax into the habit of listening to them more as they talk about their region."
The sweeping policy blueprint, "Australia in the Asian Century", released last weekend, set a series of goals for the next 13 years to seize upon Asia's rapid ascent as a global economic powerhouse.
The ambitious plan is aimed at maximising links with booming China and other soaring Asian economies to power Australia into the world's top 10 wealthiest nations by 2025.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and the United States would be Australia's key partners while Canberra also decided to post a full-time ambassador to the 10-nation ASEAN.
Carr said no regional grouping was more relevant to Australia's security or prosperity than ASEAN, which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
"I want to emphasise the sheer vitality of the economies that lie within ASEAN and their importance to Australia ... taken as a bloc it is our number two trading partner," he told the newspaper.
Carr, who travels to Indonesia and Malaysia in coming days, added that ASEAN had been at the forefront of resolving disputes over territory in the South China Sea involving China.
"ASEAN members want to see ASEAN prove itself on this issue," he said.