The mark of a true friendship is a willingness to support one another through good times and bad. Recognising that 2020 has been an unprecedented year of hardships, Australia has recommitted in a big way to support recovery, resilience and security for Cambodia and our other southeast Asian neighbours.
Australia and ASEAN are connected by common aims: to ensure our people are healthy and educated. To empower our people to earn a living, grow businesses and support their families. To provide safety and security for all our communities.
Australia will be with Cambodia and our other southeast Asian neighbours every step of the way. It’s what good friends do for each other.
At the ASEAN-Australia Summit last weekend, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a head-turning new package of economic, development and security measures to support southeast Asia’s recovery from COVID-19.
The package totals over AUD 500 million and comes on top of our regular development cooperation program – around AUD 65 million (USD50 million) annually in Cambodia – and a recent announcement of a further AUD 500 million to assist Australia’s Indo-Pacific neighbours to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine.
It is Australia’s largest non-loan package of assistance to the region in decades and Cambodia will be a key partner and beneficiary.
The single biggest part of the new package is a new AUD 232 million Mekong-Australia Program. The overarching objective of this initiative is to narrow the development gap between Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, and the rest of ASEAN. We will do this by investing in Cambodia’s most important asset – its human capital.
The Mekong-Australia Program will provide new scholarships for future Cambodian leaders, adding to the more than 850 scholarships we have provided since 1997. It will roll out more targeted short courses and twinning programs with Australian agencies. It will boost economic capability by providing technical assistance, including in water management and the transition to renewable energy technologies in Cambodia. It will build environmental resilience, and strengthen cyber and critical technology capabilities.
The first step to addressing the impacts of COVID-19 is to bolster our regional health response. Building on our support for Cambodia’s laboratory strengthening and the procurement of critical medical equipment, we will work to ensure all countries to have access to safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccines.
We will also contribute AUD 21 million to the new ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, co-funded by the Government of Japan, which will help combat COVID-19 and prepare the region for future pandemics. And we will continue our critical support for Cambodia’s Health Equity Fund, which finances free healthcare for the poorest households.
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 region in all our interests. That is why the package also includes AUD 104 million to support closer defence ties and greater security capacity, which will build on our longstanding cooperation with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
Australia will also double down on our support for the region’s economic development. The historic signing last weekend of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement will provide a much-needed boost to these efforts.
To ensure RCEP is a success, Australia will spend AUD 46 million as part of a Regional Trade for Development Initiative to help Cambodia and other developing ASEAN countries implement this and other trade commitments, such as the ASEAN Australia New Zealand Free Trade Agreement. This will build on our existing support for e-commerce, food production and processing, and consumer protection in Cambodia.
Given our region’s infrastructure needs, Australia will support infrastructure policy and regulatory reforms to deliver economic and social benefits for all. We’ll support the Cambodian Government and other ASEAN partners to have access to the advice they need to make the best decisions about infrastructure planning, procurement, policy and projects. This will build on the work we already carry out in Cambodia through our flagship ‘3i’ (Investing in Infrastructure) program.
Three decades ago, as the Cold War was drawing to a close, Australia made a firm decision to invest in Cambodia’s future. We helped broker the Paris Peace Agreements and provided substantial support to the consequent United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia which first put Cambodia on the path to peace. We have been investing in Cambodia’s development ever since.
We have a proud history here and this comprehensive package reaffirms our commitment to Cambodia’s future. It is an investment in resilience, recovery and security in our region – in the future of Australia’s partnership with southeast Asia.
Australian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia