Stepping up to the plate

Contributed by High Commissioner of Australia to Brunei DarussalamTiffany McDonald

This coming week Brunei will host the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits and Related Summits. These leader-level meetings are the pinnacle of Brunei’s ASEAN Chair year.

As ASEAN’s first Dialogue Partner, Australia has a long history of strong cooperation with ASEAN and this has again been demonstrated during Brunei’s Chair year.

As close friends and partners, Australia has worked with Brunei on our shared priorities in support of Brunei’s ASEAN Chair year theme ‘We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper’. Arguably, at no other time in recent history has the notion of caring, preparing, and prospering been more important as we continue to deal with the challenges of the global pandemic.

Australia has stepped up to support the region’s access to COVID-19 vaccines, including through our AUD523 million Regional Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative and contributing AUD100 million to the Quad Vaccine Partnership. Complementing our regional assistance, Australia’s AUD130 million contribution to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment is supporting equitable global access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.

Bilaterally, the Australian Government has supported Brunei’s own pandemic response through the donation of 100,000 Australian-made AstraZeneca vaccines; donations of PPE and other medical equipment; support to local charities who are working with front-liners; and official-level exchanges on vaccines. In addition, we have worked extensively with Brunei to address the mental health impacts of COVID-19.

At the ASEAN-related Summits last year, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam stressed the importance of strengthening healthcare systems for the future, including to safeguard people’s mental health. The ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on mental health has been characterised as the “shadow pandemic”.

Responding to this, Australia has worked with Brunei as ASEAN Chair to find ways to address mental health concerns. The Australian High Commission’s “Mental Health Matters Month”, which ran between World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 and World Mental Health Day on October 10, was part of the broader effort to help normalise seeking support for mental health issues.

We are working together to make mental health cooperation a priority at this year’s East Asia Summit (EAS). Australia is proud to co-sponsor the Brunei-led EAS Statement on Mental Health Cooperation, which aims to enhance cooperation between the 18 EAS countries. Our two countries will also co-host the EAS Workshop on Mental Health Cooperation in the COVID-19 Recovery on November 22-23. The virtual workshop will bring together policymakers, practitioners and mental health experts from across the EAS countries.

In addition to the challenges of COVID-19, the situation in Myanmar has been a significant concern during Brunei’s ASEAN Chair year. As a longstanding supporter of Myanmar’s democratic transition, Australia has continued to raise our grave concerns about the coup in Myanmar. Australia is committed to playing a constructive role, particularly through ASEAN, to support the Myanmar people.

The Australian Government welcomed the appointment by ASEAN of Brunei’s Minister of Foreign Affairs II Dato Seri Setia Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof as ASEAN’s Special Envoy to Myanmar. Australia joined with the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Norway, Canada, the Republic of Korea and Timor-Leste to issue a statement of support for Dato Seri Setia Haji Erywan’s efforts as Special Envoy to progress the Five-Point Consensus agreed by ASEAN Leaders in April.

Australia strongly supports ASEAN centrality, and supports an open, inclusive, and prosperous region with ASEAN at its heart, consistent with the objectives and principles of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

In September, Australia, the UK, and the US announced an enhanced security partnership – AUKUS. This is not a defence alliance, but a partnership that will strengthen our ability to contribute to regional security. Australia’s longstanding commitment to upholding our non-proliferation obligations remains unchanged.

AUKUS complements Australia’s other partnerships, including with ASEAN, and strengthens the existing ASEAN-led regional architecture. In a rapidly changing strategic environment, Australia’s participation in AUKUS will deepen our ability to work with regional partners, including ASEAN, in support of regional stability and security, within the rules-based framework on which our collective prosperity is built.

Australia will continue to partner with ASEAN member states including on sustainable marine resource development, combating challenges such as illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, and strengthening our regional partnerships.

Australia’s flagship regional defence engagement activity in Southeast Asia, Indo-Pacific Endeavour, which visited Brunei last month, is another example of how Australia works to support of a peaceful, inclusive, and resilient region.

Australia has a long and proud history of defence engagement with Brunei. It was Australian troops that liberated North Borneo, including Brunei, as part of Operation OBOE VI towards the end of World War II. Strengthening Australia’s defence capabilities will also form part of Australia’s contribution to a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

Australia and Brunei share a common interest in a free and open trading system. We are both party to the agreement establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA), and signatories to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which we congratulate Brunei on ratifying on October 11 this year.

Each year, more than 100,000 students from across ASEAN choose to study in Australia. I am proud of the strong education links Australia has with ASEAN, and Brunei. More than 12,000 Bruneian students have studied in Australia, including ministers, senior governments officials and successful businesspeople. International students are an important part of the Australian community, and we look forward to welcoming them back to our classrooms, campuses, and communities when the situation allows.

While Australia and Brunei’s warm and longstanding relationship was built on defence, trade and education links, the relationship doesn’t stop there. The upcoming inaugural annual ASEAN-Australia Summit during Brunei’s ASEAN Chair year is a testament to the strengthening ties. I am delighted that our first annual summit will take place during Brunei’s Chair year.

Australia is committed to building on our partnership with Brunei, and other Southeast Asian nations, so that we can all grow and proposed in an open, stable and inclusive region, with ASEAN as its heart.

We look forward to Brunei’s successful chairing of the ASEAN-related Summits, including the inaugural annual ASEAN-Australian Summit on October 27. As Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said “no one is safe until we are all safe”. We’re in this together, bersama sama.