Australia’s unwavering commitment to ASEAN

Danial Norjidi

Australia looks forward to working closely with Brunei Darussalam on shared priorities as the Sultanate assumes the ASEAN chairmanship in 2021.

This was shared in a recent statement by Australian High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam Tiffany McDonald.

“The hallmarks of a good friendship are trust, openness, respect, and a willingness to support each other through both good and challenging times,” she said. “2020 was a tough year. Our region has been seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The high commissioner noted that responding to this pandemic effectively requires countries to support each other, to support economic growth, and to support the shared vision for a peaceful, inclusive, sovereign and resilient Indo-Pacific region.

“At the ASEAN-Australia Summit, East Asia Summit and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit late last year, Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison made our commitment to recovery, resilience and security very clear: Australia is investing in partnerships in Southeast Asia and the region’s priorities are our priorities. We have a shared stake in each other’s recovery.

Australian High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam Tiffany McDonald. PHOTO: Australian High Commission in Brunei Darussalam

“As Brunei takes the reins as ASEAN Chair in 2021, we look forward to working closely on our shared priorities, and are committed to caring, preparing and prospering together as we emerge from the pandemic.”

The high commissioner shared that Australia sees that the first step to recovery is a coordinated and effective regional health response.

She said Australia tries to assist where it can, rolling out medical equipment and direct support in Southeast Asia in response to COVID-19, including the recent donation of laboratory equipment to the Royal Brunei Armed Forces.

In November, Prime Minister Morrison announced that Australia will commit AUD500 million to support access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and promote health security in the Indo-Pacific. This includes a AUD21 million investment in the new ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, which will help combat COVID-19 and prepare the region for future pandemics.

“We also need to ensure that while we focus on COVID-19, we don’t take our eye off the ball with other infectious diseases in the region. That is why Australia will also provide AUD24 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.”

In addition to the health impacts of COVID-19, the high commissioner noted that the virus has turned lives upside down, with many people having lost their jobs and uncertainty about how COVID-19 will impact lives into the future.

McDonald affirmed that Australia will work with Brunei to help normalise seeking help and support for mental health issues, particularly as the region recovers from the broader impacts of the pandemic.

Australia is also focussed on supporting economic recovery after COVID-19.

“Australia’s trade and investment relationship with the region is already very strong. Last year saw more than AUD122 billion in two-way trade and over AUD250 billion in two-way investment stocks with ASEAN member states. But we can, and should, find more opportunities to facilitate increased trade and investment to bolster our COVID-19 recovery.”

She highlighted that the historic signing of the RCEP agreement will do just that.

“We congratulate Brunei for becoming the first country to officially sign the RCEP agreement. The agreement sends a strong signal that economic openness and ASEAN centrality will continue to define the Indo-Pacific.”

To help ensure RCEP is a success, Australia is investing AUD46 million as part of a Regional Trade for Development Initiative to help ASEAN member countries implement this and other trade commitments, such as the ASEAN Australia New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, the high commissioner shared.

“We also recognise the importance for Brunei and other ASEAN member nations of their vast maritime resources. So we’re investing AUD65 million to support the ongoing development of marine resources and to help ensure maritime domains are secure and prosperous. To grow our economies, we also need to develop infrastructure. Infrastructure is the backbone of our countries.

“It needs to be high quality, sustainable, and meet the needs of the communities it serves.”

The high commissioner said that Australia’s approach to infrastructure investment is a partnership with Southeast Asian countries, and she noted that Australia has demonstrated expertise in developing infrastructure that it is keen to share, including on renewable energy technologies, 5G and cyber-security.

“Australia stands ready to support infrastructure policy and regulatory reforms in our region to deliver economic and social benefits for all. We want to help ASEAN partners access the advice they need to make the best decisions about infrastructure planning, procurement, policy and projects,” she said.

“Together, we can build smart, sustainable and resilient cities across the region.”

McDonald said, “The health and prosperity of our countries rely on our region’s security and stability.” She underlined that Australia strongly supports ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

“Our support is grounded in a firm belief that a peaceful, inclusive, sovereign and resilient region is in all our interests.”

“To bolster our region’s security needs, we have announced a further AUD104 million to support closer defence ties and greater security capability, and will bolster our footprint across the region, including a new Defence Adviser in Brunei Darussalam.”

“The comprehensive initiatives we have announced are an investment in resilience, recovery and security in our region. They are also an investment in the future of our partnership with Brunei and our Southeast Asian neighbours.”

“We are united by common purpose: to ensure our people are healthy and educated; to empower our people to earn a living, grow businesses, and support their families; to provide safety and security for all our communities; and to recover and rebuild from COVID-19,” McDonald said.

“Australia will be with Brunei and Southeast Asia every step of the way. It’s what good friends do for each other.”