Australia Strengthens Partnerships with Laos, ASEAN

Deputy Secretary Chan with Anoulak Kittikhoun, CEO of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat, and Australian Ambassador to Laos, Megan Jones. (Photo supplied)

Australia’s ASEAN Senior Official Michelle Chan visited Vientiane this week on a mission to further strengthen Australia’s partnerships with Laos and ASEAN.

Last month’s ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne commemorated 50 years since Australia became ASEAN’s first Dialogue Partner. It was also an opportunity to look to the future. 

In an interview with the Laotian Times, Deputy Secretary Chan spoke about Laos and Australia’s shared priorities and challenges for the ASEAN region.

Deputy Secretary Chan is Head of the Office of Southeast Asia in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. (Photo supplied)

“Australia sees ASEAN at the heart of the Indo-Pacific region and critical to our shared prosperity and security”, Deputy Secretary Chan said.

“We are partnering with ASEAN on the regional challenges we face — from food, health, and energy security to climate change and geostrategic challenges.”

“ASEAN and ASEAN-led institutions are central to achieving the stable, peaceful, and prosperous region we all want to live in, a region where sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected and differences are resolved through dialogue”, she said. 

She said that enhancing regional connectivity was critical for a sustainable future for the region. This joint ambition is supported by Laos’ ASEAN Chair year theme of ‘ASEAN: Enhancing Connectivity and Resilience’. 

She said Australia is proud to support Laos’ leadership of ASEAN this year and will continue its support for Laos’ ASEAN Chair Priority Economic Deliverables. 

Deputy Secretary Chan acknowledged the key role Laos played as co-chair of the Special Summit and as Australia’s ASEAN Country Coordinator from 2021 to 2024.

“We are grateful for the dedication and support Laos has provided us as Country Coordinator. It was instrumental in delivering a successful Summit,” Deputy Secretary Chan said.

At the Summit, a new historic milestone was reached with the signing of the Laos-Australia Comprehensive Partnership by His Excellency Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

The Comprehensive Partnership reflects the Leaders’ commitment to bring the two countries even closer together. 

During Deputy Secretary Chan’s visit, she discussed ways to deepen cooperation through the Comprehensive Partnership. The Partnership will strengthen opportunities for Laos and Australia to work together as trusted partners across many sectors.

In a meeting with Vice Minister Sthabandith Insisienmay, Ministry of Planning and Investment, Deputy Secretary Chan spoke about Australia’s efforts to boost two-way trade and investment with the region. 

Deputy Secretary Chan meeting Vice Minister Sthabandith Insisienmay, Ministry of Planning and Investment.

At the Summit, Prime Minister Albanese announced an AUD2 billion Southeast Asia Investment Financing Facility to support the implementation of key objectives in Invested: Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040. 

Australia is exploring opportunities in Laos in the key sectors of agriculture, resources, and clean energy. To promote increased two-way trade and investment between Laos and Australia, AgCoTech Executive Director and Co-founder Charles Olsson has been announced as Australia’s Business Champion for Laos.

Deputy Secretary Chan met Anoulak Kittikhoun, CEO of the Mekong River Commission, to discuss the Commission’s work strengthening subregional coordination on critical environmental, economic, and livelihood issues.

“Australia is working with Mekong countries to bolster the subregion’s resilience and promote inclusive, sustainable growth,” she said.

Through the Mekong-Australia Partnership (MAP), Australia supports climate, water, and energy projects across the subregion. In Laos, this has included the construction of a fish passageway in Vang Vieng, which will benefit over 400 families and help preserve over 100 local fish species.

At the Special Summit, Australia announced a further investment of AUD 222.5 million (approximately USD 146 million) for MAP to support the resilience and prosperity of the Mekong subregion. 

The second phase of funding over the next five years will address shared priorities and challenges, focusing on improving water security, responding to climate change, building economic resilience, and combatting transnational crime.

Australia’s Partnerships for Infrastructure program will also be expanded with an AUD 140 million (USD 92 million) funding commitment. This will support regional priorities such as Laos-Australia cooperation in the fields of energy and transport connectivity.

These announcements show Australia is serious about deepening its cooperation with ASEAN and working with Laos for peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.