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Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is central to Australia’s national interests and our partnerships are deep and long‑standing. Australia is linked to Southeast Asia by more than geography. In addition to our strong family, business, education, and tourism links, we share a vision for a region that is stable, prosperous, and respectful of sovereignty.  

Deepening Australia’s engagement with Southeast Asia is a priority for the Australian Government. The Office of Southeast Asia in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade leads our whole-of-nation approach with the region. The Australian Government will develop a Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040 to bolster our economic engagement with the region, guided and promoted by the Special Envoy for Southeast Asia.

Trade and investment

Australia and Southeast Asia’s trade interests are inextricably linked. Our two-way investment with ASEAN in 2021 was $248.7 billion. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia are also in our top 15 trading partners for 2020-2021. In any match-up of economic complementarity with growth potential, the greatest trade and economic opportunities for Australia over the next 30 years lie in the ASEAN region.

The ASEAN-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) is an important symbol of our commitment to ASEAN and its central role in the Indo-Pacific. The CSP investments represent the largest ever increase in Australia’s development cooperation program with ASEAN.

Australia was an original party to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement when it entered into force on 1 January 2022. RCEP reinforces the importance of ASEAN centrality to the Indo-Pacific regional economic architecture and rules-based order and brings together Australia, New Zealand, ASEAN and the major North Asian economies of China, Japan and South Korea. Once fully implemented, RCEP will be the world’s largest free trade agreement by members’ cumulative gross domestic product (GDP).

On 13 November 2022, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese joined ASEAN and New Zealand counterparts to announce the substantial conclusion of negotiations to upgrade the ASEAN Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA). The AANZFTA upgrade is a historic step towards deeper regional economic integration and provides both economic and strategic advantages to Australia. Our Regional Trade for Development Initiative will provide technical assistance and capacity building to support eligible ASEAN countries to realise the full benefits of RCEP and an upgraded AANZFTA.

We work closely with our bilateral partners and neighbours to provide mutually beneficial economic opportunities, including through the:

We are also helping to advance high-quality development across Southeast Asia through Partnerships for Infrastructure (P4I), and economic integration in the Mekong-Australia Partnership.

Defence engagement

Australia has broad, deep and longstanding defence partnerships across Southeast Asia, and we are working to tighten our military ties with the region. Australia has Defence Attachés/Advisers in all ASEAN countries. Each year, Defence participates in around 50 exercises with Southeast Asian partners, and makes about 1000 offers for military officers from ASEAN countries to study in Australia.

Defence is also expanding our cooperation on areas including military education, maritime security, peacekeeping, and English language training. Australia’s flagship regional engagement activity, Indo-Pacific Endeavour, visits multiple countries across the region during deployments.

The Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) have provided an indispensable anchor for regional security for over 50 years. The FPDA strengthens cooperation, and makes it easier for our militaries to work together when it counts.

Australia strongly supports the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) framework, which fosters open dialogue and practical defence cooperation. We actively participate in each of the seven ADMM-Plus Experts Working Groups (EWGs), including the EWG on military Medicine, which we are co-chairing with Brunei for 2021-24.

Development cooperation

Australia’s development cooperation in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Timor-Leste and Vietnam focuses on health security, stability and economic recovery. In October 2022, Australia announced an additional $470m to meet the immediate needs of the region.

To support Southeast Asia’s response and recovery to COVID-19, Australia quickly pivoted our development cooperation, as outlined in Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response.

Climate action and transition to net zero

Australia is ambitious for what we can achieve together with the region in confronting the challenges of climate change.

We are supporting enhanced climate action in Southeast Asia, including through increased climate finance partnerships such as our $200 million commitment towards a climate and infrastructure partnership with Indonesia.

Australia is working with our partners in the region to build a resilient, clean energy sector and unlock green trade and investment. For example, the landmark Singapore-Australia Green Economy Agreement supports Australia's economic, trade, investment, and climate change objectives while building on our substantial bilateral relationship with Singapore.

Maritime cooperation

Australia is collaborating with Southeast Asian partners to help address regional maritime challenges. This includes strengthening maritime legal and regulatory frameworks through capacity building and collaborative academic scholarship on maritime issues.

We are investing $42 million (2020-21 to 2023-24) under the Marine Resources Initiative, for regional maritime states to sustainably develop their marine resources and address challenges through technical cooperation.

Australia has also committed $14.4 million to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in Southeast Asia through the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Cyber and critical tech cooperation

Australia is committed to working with Southeast Asian countries to champion a safe, secure and prosperous Australia, Indo-Pacific and world enabled by cyberspace and critical technology.

The Cyber and Critical Tech Cooperation Program aims to strengthen cyber resilience across a full spectrum of cyber affairs, aligning with priorities identified in Australia’s International Cyber and Critical Technology Engagement Strategy. This program includes $11.9 million over four years to support critical technology standards in Southeast Asia.

COVID-19 vaccine support

Australia is providing COVID-19 vaccines and other support to help partner governments in Southeast Asia deliver safe, effective, and equitable vaccines to their citizens. We do this through the Regional Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative and Quad Vaccine Partnership.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Access page provides further detail on Australian shared vaccines to the Indo-Pacific region.

People connections

More than one million Australians claim Southeast Asian ancestry. We share close ties through the New Colombo Plan, Australia Awards and Australian Volunteers Program, and support a range of public diplomacy initiatives in the region.

Our people and institutional connections with Southeast Asia are also further enhanced through the Australia-ASEAN Council and Australia-Indonesia Institute.

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