PM announces millions for Asian recovery

Andi Yu and Paul Osbourne
·3-min read

Australia will invest hundreds of millions of dollars to boost post-COVID-19 economic recovery across Southeast Asia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.

Mr Morrison committed $232 million for environment, infrastructure, cyber, critical technologies and scholarships in a speech on Saturday at the virtual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

He told the 10 member nations that the pandemic had forced change in the region but that Australia was committed to the "sovereign, independent states, resilient to coercion".

"As your first dialogue partner we are also your partner in the great recovery that is now occurring," Mr Morrison said.

"ASEAN's centrality is at the core of Australia's vision for the Indo-Pacific."

Australia will also inject $70 million for infrastructure development, plus $65 million for maritime states to address regional challenges through training and technical advice, a separate statement from the prime minister said.

A further $104 million will go towards the region's emerging security needs, including military education, infectious diseases, cyber resilience, maritime security and English language training, Mr Morrison said.

Australia will open an liaison office in Myanmar's capital Nay Pyi Taw and expand its defence network to cover all ASEAN countries.

The ASEAN members are: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Mr Morrison reiterated his commitment of $500 million over three years to support access to COVID-19 vaccines across the region.

He said the investment would include $21 million to establish the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, as well as an additional $24 million to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

"In Australia we understand that your prosperity is our prosperity," he said in his speech.

The related East Asia Summit was also underway on Saturday and the prime minister said in a statement Australia would inject $46 million to implement the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the ASEAN-Australia and New Zealand free trade agreement.

The RCEP is a treaty creating the world's largest economic alliance and Mr Morrison is expected to be one of the signatories to it on Sunday.

RCEP partner countries account for 58 per cent of Australia's trade and 66 per cent of exports.

Australia, Japan, China, South Korea, the 10 members of ASEAN and New Zealand will be part of the deal, and a clause will allow India to join later.

Benefits expected include better access into the region for exports of services such as telecommunications, professional and financial services, improved ways to tackle non-tariff barriers such as customs procedures, quarantine and technical standards and greater investment certainty for businesses.

As well, there are expected to be improved rules on e-commerce to make it easier for businesses to trade online and a common set of rules on intellectual property.

At Thursday's opening ceremony, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said peace and security were under increasing threat in the region.

Mr Morrison and other leaders are expected to discuss tensions in the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula as well as the spread of disinformation across the region.