Why it matters
“We are partners with a vital stake in a dynamic region undergoing major changes. We commit to intensify our shared work to shape a secure and prosperous region for our people.”
— JOINT STATEMENT, ASEAN-AUSTRALIA SPECIAL SUMMIT, 2018
The vision in practice
Australia is an active and engaged partner, deeply integrated with a growing and dynamic part of the world. Australia recognises the necessity of applying all arms of statecraft in engaging with the region, ensuring sufficient investment across defence, diplomacy and development.
Australia’s economic diplomacy will promote openness to ideas, technology and the free flow of knowledge and services to support resilience and equitable growth. Australian development cooperation will work in partnership with Southeast Asia to create growth and human capital through building sophisticated social protection, health and education systems, good governance and hard infrastructure. Australia’s expertise will make a valuable impact building systems in areas that support equitable and sustainable growth.
Australia will use its positions as an education provider to strengthen linkages to enable policy and knowledge exchange in priority areas including health, education and technology. Linkages will be strengthened by promoting opportunities for networking, professional development and alumni support.
Australian agencies will cooperate on non-traditional security threats and Australia will continue to engage actively to promote a secure, stable and prosperous region. Australia will adopt a balanced approach to risks, focusing both on non-traditional security including terrorism and transnational crime as well as emerging geostrategic challenges. Australia will support inclusive and sustainable development to avoid a region riven by inequality, which produces instability counter to Australia’s national interest.
Australia’s approach to the region will synchronise with regional initiatives and emphasise interventions that align with other actors in the region. Australia can capitalise on its development cooperation by focusing on key interventions in support of regional policy and initiatives, becoming a strong multilateral partner.
With a well-resourced diplomatic arm, Australia will establish stronger diplomatic engagement with ASEAN and individual countries through further comprehensive partnerships, adding to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Australia and ASEAN and ASEAN members Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. The relative growth of most Southeast Asia countries affects Australia’s role however, Australia still has an important contribution to make. By linking diplomacy and development cooperation together to build strong and effective relations, Australia will be the nation Southeast Asia looks to on priority development issues, moving from a prism of development cooperation to a genuine partnership of equals.
Australia’s private sector will actively engage with opportunities in the region, supported by both government and business associations. An increasing number of Australian companies will have Southeast Asian strategies. There is an opportunity for development cooperation programs to support this.
Australia will create a deeper and more sophisticated relationship not only built on economic cooperation, but on stronger relationships through understanding the language and business culture, including people-to-people and institution-to-institution connectivity.
Research institutions across the region will be supported to put in place strategies to build deeper research and development partnerships that build enduring relationships, respect and trust. Institutions will build awareness and resilience to foreign interference.
Australia will invest in building better relationships with the people of Southeast Asia and support more resilient civil societies. This can be pursued creatively without stepping on the toes of local governments, including by supporting Australian civil society to boost its engagement with the region and by promoting more dialogue around shared social issues such as race, religious and gender-based discrimination.
CASE STUDY: The Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security
An example of supporting collaboration and institution-building in practice is the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security.
The Centre is the implementation body for the Australian Government’s $300 million Health Security Initiative, launched in 2017, and the $623 million Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative, announced last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centre is located in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and brings together relevant Australian Government Agencies, advised by a distinguished Technical Reference Group. The Centre’s mix of DFAT staff,
secondees from six Departments and specialist contractors provides in-house expertise in areas including the veterinary sciences, regulation, immunology, microbiology, epidemiology and anthropology.
The Centre for Health Security is uniquely placed to leverage the projects, partnerships and goodwill Australia has built to address the urgent need to mitigate growing health security threats to our country and our region. The Centre brings together global investments, collaboration with regional organisations (including ASEAN) and bilateral health cooperation to deliver both strategic direction and practical, timely assistance for regional government partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
This is an example of what can be built in other areas.
CASE STUDY: IA-CEPA ECP Katalis
Katalis is a government-backed business development program designed to maximise benefits from the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (IA-CEPA). It is a business-first program aiming to build commercial partnerships between businesses in Australia and Indonesia. Mutual business interest is key to the delivery model.
The Katalis business engagement approach rests on four key elements for success:
- Sectors with most mutual benefit: Katalis works in sectors with the most potential for mutual economic benefit over the long term: agri-food, advanced manufacturing and selected services such as education, health, digital and professional services. Also included are other sectors or parts of value chains that offer substantial growth and development potential in the next 5-20 years.
- High-profile business activities: Katalis supports a step-up in mutually beneficial trade and investment, with activities that have a positive demonstration effect for the business community. It showcases these activities with impactful public communications to promote success, leverage more interest and crowd-in more business partnerships.
- Large businesses with flow-on benefits to SMEs: Katalis emphasises building relationships with large businesses in targeted sectors as the entry point to connect and engage with firms of all types and sizes involved in their value chain.
- Ensure all activities catalyse trade and investment that is mutually beneficial, commercially meaningful and inclusive. This entails a strong emphasis on working with businesses willing and able to co-invest, in cash or in kind, in activities to further develop the Indonesia-Australia economic relationship.
This approach would be worth exploring at the regional level.
Focus Australia’s development cooperation on priority areas that promote sustainable growth and development. Australia will specialise in areas where it can add value and have a comparative advantage. Priority areas of development that underpin sustainable growth and development will be health, education and economic cooperation.
Australia should build on existing initiatives that exemplify strong collaborative partnerships and transfer technology and know-how. The Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security is an example already in place.
Australia should look to expand its technical assistance to Southeast Asia along the lines of the Prospera program in Indonesia, which seconds experienced Australian public servants to Indonesian government departments. Great powers such as China and the US are too big and threatening to develop these kinds of relationships, which can only be sustained through a high degree of mutual trust. This approach capitalises on Australia’s knowledge base to help partners meet their own diverse challenges, as well as building a wider regional network of officials and advisers who can better tackle shared future problems.
Australia will coordinate each arm of statecraft to maximise impact by emphasising that all agencies have a role to play. In practice, this means defence cooperation that supports stability, resilience and sovereignty in the region will significantly contribute to economic growth and development. It is important for Australia to advocate for defence to have a place at the table when it comes to recovery and growth in the region.
Australia will continue close collaboration across enforcement agencies to combat security risks. Australia recently announced $65 million for regional maritime states for enhanced training, technical advice and cooperation that will significantly contribute to strengthening relationships across the region. Australia should continue to move beyond capacity-building and focus on enhanced partnering with Southeast Asian states to improve the quality and complexity of engagement.
Work with Southeast Asian states to strengthen cooperation on emerging challenges that will have a direct impact on Australia’s critical infrastructure and digital economy. Digital development is one area that will benefit from closer collaboration.
Provide support to research institutions to build and strengthen partnerships in research and development across the region. Digital health is one example of a practical way of building deeper collaboration between Australia and the region in this area, bringing together infrastructure, research and technical cooperation. There are opportunities for collaboration on drug repurposing, where artificial intelligence shortlists drugs that can be used to intervene in earlier stages of disease. Likewise, applications of artificial intelligence to triage patients in isolation to determine if they require hospital care is another collaboration opportunity.
Ensure scholarship and Australia Awards short courses are aligned with regional development priorities. For example, the field of infectious disease research can boost infectious disease intelligence cooperation and support pandemic preparedness. These areas of cooperation also build stronger partnerships across research institutions and develop effective nodes of cooperation and networking.
Build on Australia’s position as Southeast Asia’s pivotal education provider and expand services offshore to increase access to technical and vocational education and training. Australia will be a strong partner for skills development and knowledge transfer and develop and implement systems to increase access to education in the region at an affordable scale.
Australian economic diplomacy should promote openness to global trade, investment, technology and the free flow of ideas. This should integrate diplomatic efforts with development cooperation to create sophisticated, modern and respectful partnerships that are genuinely collaborative. This framework will provide the basis for working together on significant projects.
Expand on initiatives that strengthen economic cooperation and improve development outcomes. The Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (IA-CEPA) is an example already in place. While commercial engagement has proved elusive in the past, it remains an area of significant potential.
Save the Children
Lowy Institute for International Policy
The Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne
Cardno International Development
Perth USAsia Centre
International Development Contractors Community
United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney
Melissa Conley Tyler
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license. You can reprint or republish with attribution.
You can cite this paper as: Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defence Dialogue, What does it look like for Australia to be a Partner for Southeast Asian Recovery & Growth. (Canberra 2022): www.asiapacific4d.com
Images on this page courtesy of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
This paper is the product of the Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defence Dialogue’s inaugural program, ‘Shaping a shared future — deepening Australia’s influence in Southeast Asia and the Pacific’, funded by the Australian Civil-Military Centre.