|Australian Ambassador Robyn Mudie
Việt Nam’s year as ASEAN Chair has taken place during an unprecedented time in modern history. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us collectively with new threats, both to our health security and our economies. Việt Nam has managed the many challenges posed by this situation, including in its capacity as ASEAN Chair, skilfully and dutifully.
Australia has been pleased to support Việt Nam throughout this year, both as a Strategic Partner to Việt Nam and to ASEAN.
At the ASEAN-Australia Summit, East Asia Summit and RCEP Summit over the weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made Australia’s commitment to recovery, resilience and security very clear: Australia is investing in partnerships in Southeast Asia; and the region’s priorities are our priorities.
The first step to addressing the impacts of COVID-19 is to bolster our regional health response.
We want all countries to have access to safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccines. That is why the Australian Government has announced a A$500 million package to support access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
This includes a A$21 million contribution to the new ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, which will help combat COVID-19 and prepare the region for future pandemics.
Recognising the importance of a broader approach to health security, we will provide A$24 million to combat other infectious diseases in the Indo-Pacific through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Australia is also focused on supporting economic recovery after COVID-19.
Last year, Australia’s two-way trade with ASEAN nations was more than A$122 billion and two-way investment stocks rose to over A$250 billion.
Our trade and investment relationship with Việt Nam is already very strong, and the prospects for future growth are bright.
Extensive work has taken place this year on the joint Australia-Việt Nam Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy with a number of initial recommendations now being finalised, including a set of initiatives to foster close business links with Việt Nam. This will contribute to the Strategy’s aim for both countries to become top ten trade partners and double investment.
Our businesses and our people will benefit from the historic signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, which will open up new markets and new economic opportunities. To ensure RCEP is a success, Australia is supporting ASEAN countries to implement its trade commitments with A$46 million as part of a Regional Trade for Development Initiative.
We also recognise the importance for Việt Nam, as well as other coastal ASEAN states, of its vast maritime resources. Through an investment of A$65 million across the region, we will support the ongoing development of marine resources and ensuring maritime domains are secure and prosperous.
In order to grow our economies, we also need to develop high-quality, sustainable infrastructure that meet the needs of the communities it serves.
Australia’s commitment of A$70 million to support quality infrastructure investment in the region represents a partnership with Southeast Asian countries. Australia has demonstrated expertise in developing infrastructure that we are keen to share, including on the transition to renewable energy technologies and climate-resilient infrastructure.
Our funding will support policy and regulatory reforms to deliver economic and social benefits for all. And we will make sure ASEAN partners have access to the technical and policy advice they need.
Together, we can build smart, sustainable and resilient cities across the region.
To support our Mekong partners to recover from COVID-19, and to narrow the development gap, we’ve announced a new A$232 million Mekong-Australia Program, with an investment in one of the region’s most important assets – human capital.
Australia’s funding will provide new scholarships for future leaders. It will boost economic capability by providing technical assistance. It will build environmental resilience and strengthen cyber and critical technology capabilities.
Việt Nam will receive special attention, through support to implement the Vietnam-Australia Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy once realised.
Việt Nam’s year as ASEAN chair came against the backdrop of significant geostrategic shifts which are presenting new challenges to stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and around the world. The health and prosperity of our countries rely on our region’s security and stability.
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 Indo-Pacific is in all our interests.
To bolster our region’s security needs, Prime Minister Morrison announced a further A$104 million to support closer Defence ties with the region and greater security capability.
The comprehensive initiatives announced by Australia are an investment in resilience, recovery and security in our region. They are also an investment in the future of our partnership with Southeast Asia and ASEAN.
Việt Nam’s steady leadership over the past year has reinforced ASEAN’s pivotal role in the region. As we recover and rebuild from COVID-19, Australia will be with Việt Nam, and all nations of Southeast Asia, every step of the way. VNS
* Robyn Mudie is Australian Ambassador to Việt Nam