Australia investing in partnerships in Southeast Asia

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Australia investing in partnerships in Southeast Asia

The hallmarks of a good friendship are trust, openness, respect and a willingness to support each other through both good and challenging times.

2020 has been a tough year. Our region has been seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To respond to this pandemic effectively, Australia and the Philippines need to support each other, to support economic growth and to support our shared vision for a peaceful, inclusive, sovereign and resilient Indo-Pacific region.

At the ASEAN-Australia Summit, East Asia Summit and RCEP Summit last week, Australian 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.

The first step in addressing the impact of COVID-19 is to bolster our regional health response.

Australia has already played a crucial role in rolling out medical equipment and direct support in the Philippines and across Southeast Asia in response to COVID-19.

Looking ahead, we want all countries to have access to safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccines. Any country that discovers a COVID-19 vaccine must share it. Should Australia find one, we will share it.

That is why the Australian Government has announced a landmark investment of new funding to support vaccine access and health security in the region.

As part of a AUD500-million (P17.5-billion) package to support access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Australia will contribute AUD21 million (P735 million) to the new ASEAN Center for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, which will help combat COVID-19 and prepare the region for future pandemics.

Australia is also focused on supporting economic recovery after COVID-19. The historic signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement – the largest free trade agreement in the world which includes both Australia and the Philippines – is a step towards opening up new opportunities and building stronger economies.

Last week, I made my first official visit since the pandemic to Clark and Subic where many of our more than 300 Australian companies in the Philippines are helping create local jobs and opportunities. Australian businesses remain interested and invested in the Philippines, and have much to offer in terms of digitalization, e-commerce and infrastructure development to help the economy bounce back from COVID-19.

Infrastructure is the backbone of our countries. In order to grow our economies, we need to develop quality infrastructure.

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

Australia’s approach to infrastructure investment is a partnership – we’ll make sure ASEAN partners, including the Philippines, have access to the tools they need to make the best decisions about infrastructure planning, procurement, policy and projects to deliver economic and social benefits for all. Together, we can build smart, sustainable and resilient cities across the region.

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 the firm belief that a peaceful, inclusive, sovereign and resilient region is in all of our interests.

We will bolster our dialogue and cooperation on security with the Philippines and other countries in the region. Towards this end, Prime Minister Morrison announced a further AUD104 million (P3.64 billion) to support closer defense ties and greater security capability for our partners.

These comprehensive initiatives 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 the Philippines and other partner countries.

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

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Steven J. Robinson AO is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. Follow him on Twitter @AusAmbPH.