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Southeast Asia

ASEAN and Australia

Australia sees ASEAN at the centre of a stable, peaceful, prosperous and secure region, where all states contribute to a strategic equilibrium. ASEAN is of profound significance for Australia’s future, and our strong relations reflect close to half a century of cooperation.

Australia became ASEAN’s first Dialogue Partner in 1974. Through major ASEAN-led arrangements, such as the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN-Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus, we collaborate closely and on the region’s trade and economic agenda. We strongly support the principles of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).

Since 2013, Australia has a resident ambassador accredited to the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta.

Trade and investment

ASEAN is a key trading partner for Australia. In 2021, Australia's trade with ASEAN countries was $127.1 billion, which is greater than our two-way trade with Japan and the United States. Our two-way investment with ASEAN in 2021 was $248.7 billion.

Our strong trade links are supported by our regional and bilateral free trade agreements. This includes the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), which are pathways for Australian business to tap into ASEAN and the ASEAN Economic Community.

ASEAN-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

In October 2021, ASEAN and Australia made the historic decision to establish a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP). Our current focus is on implementing the CSP package.

The Australia for ASEAN Futures Initiative supports projects that address complex challenges and support implementation of the AOIP. The Futures Initiative will respond to ASEAN priorities. The first set of projects will focus on smart cities, facilitating business engagement across ASEAN, and supporting the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework.

The Futures Initiative will adopt the same partnership model in the ASEAN-Australia Development Cooperation Program (AADCPII), which has supported ASEAN’s economic community priorities since 2009. ASEAN and Australia will jointly approve Futures Initiative projects.

One hundred Australia for ASEAN Scholarships will support emerging ASEAN leaders to study in Australia in fields that advance the AOIP under its priority areas of cooperation – maritime, connectivity, economic, and sustainable development cooperation. This initiative builds on the success of the 50 ASEAN-Australia Awards from the 2018 Special Summit. Scholars will arrive in Australia from early 2023.

The Australia for ASEAN Digital Transformation and Futures Skills initiative supports our region’s futures skills needs, response to rapid digitalisation, and long-term economic recovery.

The initiative will include:

  • a new policy dialogue between ASEAN and Australian policymakers and industry to promote information exchange and knowledge-sharing
  • 350 vocational education and training (VET) scholarships to support ASEAN policymakers and emerging leaders in government and industry to study in fields such as digital education, cyber security, and big data
  • “train the trainer” opportunities and technical assistance partnerships between ASEAN and Australian technical and vocational educations and training (TVET) institutions and experts to further information exchange, skill sharing across the region and build the region’s longer-term future skills capacity.

These investments represent the largest ever increase in Australia’s development cooperation program with ASEAN.

Development cooperation

ASEAN and Mekong Program 2022-23 bilateral allocation [budget estimate]
$94.6 million
ASEAN and Mekong Program 2021-22 bilateral allocation [budget estimate]
$77.0 million

Australia’s development cooperation with ASEAN supports a range of areas. This includes COVID-19 response and recovery, combatting human trafficking, enhancing economic integration, implementation of RCEP and AANZFTA, and reducing the risk of future pandemics.

We support ASEAN’s work on energy transition and decarbonisation, connectivity, smart cities, food security, and safe and fair migration. Australia is also helping ASEAN take forward its women, peace and security agenda, and strengthening digital trade standards in ASEAN.

Australia provides development assistance to some countries in Southeast Asia, and to ASEAN. Details of progress in implementing individual COVID-19 Response Plans are available on the Development Program Progress Reports page.

People connections

Australia has strong connections to the people of Southeast Asia, including through migration, education exchanges and tourism. Over one million Australian residents claimed an ASEAN country as their country of birth in the 2021 Census and over 1.1 million with ASEAN ancestry. Over 800,000 Australians speak an ASEAN language.

Australia’s people and institutional connections with Southeast Asia are enhanced by the Australia-ASEAN Council. The council strengthens Australia’s engagement with the region through advocacy, support for business, education and cultural initiatives.

Many ASEAN alumni have careers in politics, business, academia and the arts while maintaining their close ties to Australia. Young Australians are also choosing to study in Southeast Asia, including under the New Colombo Plan.

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