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8 March 2024: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

08 Mar 2024
By Dr Adam Bartley

This week in Australian foreign affairs: ASEAN-Australia Special Summit; Australia and Vietnam announce comprehensive strategic partnership; new investment platforms for Southeast Asia; Australia and Malaysia hold 2nd Annual Leaders’ Meeting, and more.

On 4 March, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim issued a Joint statement for the 2nd Australia-Malaysia Annual Leaders’ Meeting. The two “leaders announced a new agreement to encourage collaboration between Australian and Malaysian technology companies, which will boost two-way investment.” The two sides also “welcomed new cooperation on maritime decarbonisation and clean energy”; “committed to working more closely to manage cyber security threats and train our professionals in cyber skills,” and agreed to “strengthen cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation.” The two nations also announced a new Maritime Cooperation Package to bolster bilateral maritime cooperation, strengthen maritime domain awareness capability, “and build expertise in international law of the sea and marine environmental protection.”

Also on 4 March, Foreign Minister Penny Wong issued a joint media statement with the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen on a new AUD$10 million Climate and Clean Energy Window. The Window was announced at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit and will be designed to bolster joint efforts on climate change and clean energy. “The Window will be the first initiative to be designed under the Southeast Asia Government-to-Government Partnerships program, announced by the Albanese Government in 2023.”

Wong also announced new support for Mekong subregion resilience on 4 March. Australia will invest a further AUD$222.5 million to support “the subregion’s environmental and economic resilience, leadership and skills, and trade and investment.” As a second phase of the Mekong partnership program, “funding over the next five years will address priorities and shared challenges with a focus on improving water security, responding to climate change and combatting transnational crime.”

Additionally, Australia announced new funding for maritime partnerships in Southeast Asia, notes Wong’s office in a statement on 4 March. “The Australian Government will invest $64 million over the next four years, including $40 million in new funding, to enhance Australia’s Southeast Asia Maritime Partnerships.” This will include new “skills development, training and the sharing of technology.” Examples of current partnerships include: “conserving coral reefs through the Australian Institute for Marine Science; maritime law enforcement and domain awareness through the Australian Border Force; [and] geospatial mapping through Geoscience Australia,” among other programs.

On 5 March, Albanese welcomed members and leaders of the Lao PDR, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Timor-Leste in Melbourne for the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit. Themed “A Partnership for the Future,” the Summit marked 50 years since Australia became ASEAN’s first Dialogue Partner. The Leaders adopted the ASEAN-Australia Joint Leaders’ Vision Statement and the Melbourne Declaration with an eye to the next 50 years of partnership, and to promote an open, inclusive and transparent region.

Additionally, Albanese joined the prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, in a Joint statement for the 9th Singapore-Australia Annual Leaders Meeting on 5 March. The two leaders discussed the Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which marks its 10th anniversary in 2025. “The Leaders agreed that cooperation under the next phase of the CSP should be ambitious, future-oriented and pathfinding.” The two prime ministers also “announced the first group of Australian and Singaporean small and medium-sized businesses to receive grants under the $20 million Go-Green Co-Innovation Program.” This will facilitate co-innovation between the two countries and support the development of sustainable products and services.” Meanwhile, additional “grant funding was announced to encourage collaborative research between Australian and Singaporean scientists on sustainability, innovation and food technology.”

Also on 5 March, Australia issued a joint statement with Brunei Darussalam on a Bilateral Meeting during the 2024 ASEAN-Australia Special Summit. “The Leaders committed to take the Australia-Brunei Darussalam partnership to new heights in promoting peace, stability and development in areas of mutual interest.” The nations will  look for practical ways to “bolster the cooperation identified in the Joint Declaration on a Comprehensive Partnership across economic relations, climate change particularly through the ASEAN Centre for Climate Change, food security, defence, security, maritime, people-to-people exchanges and social-cultural ties.”

Albanese announced a AUD$2 billion investment facility to support business engagement with Southeast Asia on 5 March. At an address to 100 Australian and Southeast Asian CEOs at the Special Summit on the same day Albanese unveiled a package of “focussed initiatives that represent the next phase of the Government’s response to recommendations in the Southeast Asia Economic Strategy, including: $140 million over four years to extend the Partnerships for Infrastructure Program; Appointing 10 Business Champions to facilitate greater commercial links between Australia and the economies of ASEAN; launch of regional technology ‘Landing Pads’ in Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City; Improving visa access for Southeast Asia.”

Also on 5 March, Wong joined the Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell in Joint media release for the launch of an “Investment Deal Team hubs in Singapore, Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City, with additional Deal Team representatives across the ASEAN region.” The Deal Teams “will work with governments and business in Southeast Asia to identify and facilitate outbound investment opportunities for Australian investors.” “The $70.2 million Deal Teams involve experts from Austrade, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Export Finance Australia (EFA), and form part of the Government’s implementation of Invested: Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040.

The leaders of Australia and Vietnam issued a Joint statement on the elevation to a comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries on 7 March. Albanese stated that the invigorated partnership “will support expanded cooperation on climate, environment and energy, and digital transformation and innovation, building on established collaboration across defence and security, economic engagement and education.” Other initiatives include “A new Peacekeeping Partnership Arrangement […] including the UN Mission in South Sudan.” The leaders “also agreed to elevate the Australia-Vietnam Security Dialogue to the Ministerial level to advance cooperation on law enforcement issues.” Additionally, Australia and Vietnam welcomed new cooperation in agriculture to encourage trade in new commodities. Other new agreements include a Vietnamese workers program to fill labour gaps in rural and regional Australia, “a renewed framework for cooperation between Australian and Vietnamese education institutions” to strengthen early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary education, as well as new agreements between maritime and science agencies to “support Vietnam’s management of its maritime resources, including through adaption to climate change.”

On 6 March, in a joint media release with Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts, Wong announced the “Australian Government will be supporting 38 community, university and business projects to strengthen collaboration between Australia and ASEAN members.” The projects will be funded through the Australia-ASEAN Council and the Australia-Indonesia Institute.

Meanwhile, on 3 March, in a joint media release with Assistant Minister for Trade, Assistant Minister for Manufacturing Tim Ayers, Farrell “welcomed solid outcomes achieved at the 13th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC13), in Abu Dhabi. “Australia supported the renewal of the e-commerce moratorium, which has underpinned growth of the digital economy for over 25 years.” Other outcomes included the finalising of “the Investment Facilitation for Development Agreement, and important ministerial discussions on industrial policy, environmental sustainability, and economic inclusion.” Australia also welcomed “the accession of Timor-Leste and Comoros to the WTO, and the agreement for a strong package of assistance and flexibility for developing and least-developed countries.” No reform on agricultural and fisheries subsidies, however, occurred.