Investing in our Southeast Asian partnerships
“Australia's health security and economic recovery are closely intertwined with those of our Southeast Asian partners”.
Former Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, 30 June 2020
The Australian Government is investing in our Southeast Asian partnerships. We have a shared interest in an open, inclusive and resilient region and a shared path to recovery from COVID‑19. As close neighbours, Australia and Southeast Asia share a path to recovery: Southeast Asia’s prosperity is our prosperity.
Australia has responded swiftly to support our regional neighbours and partners respond to COVID‑19, including through:
- $304.7 million over two years for an economic-focused COVID-19 Response Package for the Pacific and Timor-Leste
- $300 million to Southeast Asia to support access and delivery of effective vaccines (with a further $100 million announced by the Prime Minister on 13 March, under the Quad Vaccines Partnership), and
- a $500 million landmark package of support to Southeast Asia in new economic, development and security measures.
These investments, combined with our $1 billion development program in Southeast Asia, and the $1.5 billion loan to Indonesia, is Australia’s largest investment in Southeast Asia since the Indian Ocean tsunami (2004).
New Southeast Asia initiatives
At the ASEAN‑Australia Summit in November 2020, the Prime Minister announced a package of approximately $500 million in new economic, development and security measures to support Southeast Asia’s recovery from COVID-19 (media release, 14 November 2020). This represents a landmark investment in Australia’s partnerships with Southeast Asia and builds on Australia’s existing development assistance programs with the region (around $1 billion in 2020-21).
The package of investments aligns with ASEAN’s priorities under the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo‑Pacific, including maritime, connectivity, sustainable development, closing the development gap in the Mekong sub-region and economic cooperation investments.
A prosperous and resilient Mekong sub-region is an important part of a strong Southeast Asia region, which is why we will invest in a new $232 million dollar Mekong-Australia Partnership to support economic integration and development in the Mekong sub-region.
Key elements of the Mekong Australia Partnership will include:
- providing scholarships for emerging leaders
- increasing economic and environmental resilience
- strengthening cyber security and critical technology capabilities
- boosting trade and investment ties through business-focussed programs such as implementation of the Vietnam Australia Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy.
Australia will also invest $70 million through Partnerships for Infrastructure (P4I) to support the region’s resilience and economic recovery from COVID-19. These partnerships will advance high‑quality infrastructure development across South East Asia through:
- supporting infrastructure policy and regulatory reforms to deliver economic and social benefits, offering rapid access to Australian government partners
- high‑calibre private sector advice on infrastructure planning, procurement, policy and projects
- sharing expertise on priorities like the transition to renewable energy technologies and climate resilient infrastructure.
We will invest $13 million to support Southeast Asian partners work with technology standards-setting bodies to assist the region’s economies gear-up for the future. Australia’s goal is for digital technologies to be used for sustainable growth in inclusive development and better ensure that technologies are resilient to threats and are trusted by their users. Such technology will have a greater impact on development.
As a maritime nation, Australia will invest $65 million for regional maritime states to develop their marine resources and help address challenges via enhanced training, technical advice and cooperation.
The package also includes a $104 million investment to support our region’s emerging security needs, including:
- enhancing our Defence Cooperation Program to support Southeast Asian partners with military education, infectious diseases, cyber resilience and English language training
- expanding our Defence Adviser and Defence Attaché network to cover all ASEAN member states
- leveraging defence industry to support regional peacekeeping capacity.
Further, to support the historic signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement (RCEP) on 15 November 2020 Australia will commit $46 million to a Regional Trade for Development Initiative. This will seek to help eligible ASEAN countries implement RCEP and ASEAN‑Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) commitments and ensure RCEP delivers on its full potential.
These new initiatives build on existing development assistance to Southeast Asia (around $1 billion in 2020-21), our extensive security links, including defence relationships, and complements Partnerships for Recovery, which pivoted our development program in response to COVID-19.
The initiatives also build on Australia’s commitment of $500 million over three years for a regional vaccine access and health security initiative in Southeast Asia and the Pacific (media release, 31 October 2020). As part of the regional vaccine access and health security initiative, Australia will provide $21 million for the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, to help the region combat COVID-19 and prepare for future pandemics. We will also invest $24 million for infectious diseases in the Indo-Pacific, as part of Australia’s 2019 pledge of $242 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.