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Development assistance: ASEAN and Mekong programs

Australia's ASEAN and Mekong programs

2022-23 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$42.4 million
2021-22 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$40.4 million
2020-21 total Australian ODA [budget actual]
$37.2 million

Southeast Asia sits at the nexus of strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific and is vital to Australia's security and prosperity. In addition to our bilateral development cooperation with individual Southeast Asia countries, Australia has long-standing investments in development cooperation to address shared regional challenges. One way we do this is through our strategic partnership with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). We are ASEAN's longest-standing Dialogue Partner. ASEAN and the ASEAN-led regional architecture remain at the heart of Australia's vision for a stable, open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific, and are essential to the regional recovery from COVID-19. Beyond development cooperation, our relationships and engagement in Southeast Asia extend to political, strategic and economic spheres.

COVID-19 presents the region with complex and transboundary development, economic and strategic challenges. COVID-19 has compounded shifts in the distribution of power in the region and further sharpened strategic competition. Pressure on the rules, norms and institutions that foster an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific has become more acute. Ongoing and increasing erosion of the international rules-based order undermines international peace and stability.

How countries in the region respond to COVID-19 will have long-term impacts for Australia's economic and security interests. Our two-way trade with ASEAN is worth $124 billion annually, three of our top ten trading partners - Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand - are ASEAN member states. Two-way investment stocks were valued at $259 billion in 2019.

A prolonged economic downturn risks undermining the rule of law and stability in our region. Increased poverty, particularly in densely populated urban areas, will exacerbate existing social tensions, providing fertile ground for illicit, criminal and terrorist networks.

Partnerships for Recovery

From the outset of COVID-19, our programs have pivoted swiftly to address the immediate health, humanitarian and early economic recovery needs of our partners. We are supporting regional governance and institutions and addressing the transboundary dimension of issues affecting the region's health security, stability and economic recovery.

Partnerships for Recovery – Australia's COVID-19 Development Response and performance framework, outlines Australia's approach to tackling COVID-19 in our region, pivoting our development program to focus on the virus, together with our partners. The ASEAN and Southeast Asia regional COVID-19 Development Response Plan (CRP) sets out how we are working to address the regional challenges posed by COVID-19 under three key pillars of Partnerships for Recovery: Health Security, Stability and Economic Recovery.

The COVID-19 Development Response Plan places a strong focus on Southeast Asia and ASEAN in recognition of our shared interests in building a stable, prosperous, and resilient Indo-Pacific. Australia, as a long-standing partner of ASEAN, has a key role to play in shaping the post crisis regional order. A strong ASEAN response to COVID-19 that reinforces ASEAN's role at the heart of the region is important to our long-term interests. Our development programs with ASEAN complement enhanced political engagement, including through Leaders' Summits and Ministerial Meetings. We are also elevating our engagement in the Mekong sub-region, where development and strategic challenges are acute.

Through our work outlined in the COVID-19 Development Response Plan, we are leveraging our comparative advantage and ensuring our development cooperation complements broader efforts. We are maintaining flexibility to respond to changing circumstances and needs, and are actively pursuing opportunities to partner with like-minded donors and multilateral institutions (including ASEAN) to amplify our efforts.

Health security

Australia's regional health response is helping address gaps in health systems to bolster health security, spanning efforts to contain the spread of the virus, conduct health awareness campaigns, support local health systems with equipment and training, and facilitate supply chains for essential goods.

ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases

($21 million, 2020-22)

Enhancing regional capacity to prepare for, detect and respond to pandemics.

ASEAN-Australia Health Security Program

($5m, 2020-2022)

Reducing the risk of pandemics from zoonotic disease outbreaks and providing scholarships for senior health officials to improve technical health capacity across ASEAN.

COVID‑19 ASEAN Response Fund

($1m, 2020-2021)

Supporting ASEAN member states to respond to the pandemic by procuring medical provisions.


Australia is committed to supporting stability between and within Southeast Asian countries in the face of unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19. This includes supporting efforts to maintain social cohesion and improve law and justice in the region.

ASEAN-Australia Counter Trafficking Initiative

($80 million, 2018-2028)

Supporting the strengthening of effective justice systems in ASEAN member states to provide just punishment of traffickers and protect victims' rights.

Tripartite Action for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in the ASEAN Region

($24 million, 2015‑2027)

Maximising the contribution of labour migration to equitable, inclusive and stable growth in the ASEAN region in six target ASEAN countries (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam).

ASEAN-Australia Political Security Partnership

($10 million, 2019-2024)

Strengthening ASEAN institutional and Member State capability to address shared security issues such as maritime security, cybersecurity, and transnational crime.

Disability Rights in ASEAN Program

($2 million, 2018-21)

Supporting disability inclusive COVID-19 responses and recovery in ASEAN.

Economic recovery

Drawing on long-standing regional economic programs, Australia is well-placed to assist the region's economic recovery efforts through support for trade, investment, regulatory reform, connectivity, infrastructure development, and effective resource management. We will continue to support ASEAN's strategic economic and connectivity agendas, including in strengthening supply chains.

ASEAN-Australia Development Cooperation Program-II

($57 million, 2008-2021)

Responding to ASEAN's priorities to further its economic integration, enhance connectivity and navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Mekong Australia Program for Water and Renewable Energy

($50 million 2019-2027)

Contributing to the sustainable development of the Mekong sub-region's water and other renewable energy resources.

ASEAN-Australia- New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) Economic Cooperation Support Program

($36.5m, 2009-2021)

Assisting developing ASEAN Member States to implement their commitments under the AANZFTA and participate in the benefits of greater trade liberalisation and regional economic integration.

ASEAN-Australia Smart Cities Initiative

($20 million, 2018-24)

Supporting ASEAN Member States to respond to the challenges of urbanisation, and improve city planning systems, service delivery and financial management.

ASEAN-Australia Digital Trade Standards Initiative

($5 million, 2018-2024)

Supporting ASEAN Member States to develop and adopt international standards to promote digital trade and support inclusive economic growth, by delivering reports, policy advice and capacity building.

Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia

($5 million, 2018-2023)

Supporting policy advice for ASEAN Member States and capacity building for Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to improve ASEAN regional economic integration.

Our results

Program highlights are outlined in the 2019-2020 ASEAN and Mekong Regional Development Program Progress Report.

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