Australia Hosts ASEAN Leaders’ Summit on Climate, Trade, and Maritime Security

This week, Australia hosted an ASEAN leaders’ summit in Melbourne on climate and clean energy, trade, and maritime security, particularly in the South China Sea.

On the summit’s opening day, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced C$56 million in funding over four years to enhance maritime partnerships in Southeast Asia. Wong stated in her keynote speech that the Indo-Pacific must be a region where “no country dominates, and no country is dominated,” and stressed that “the region's character [is] under challenge.”

The next day, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese unveiled a C$1.78-billion fund to boost trade and investment with Southeast Asia through clean-energy projects and infrastructure development.

Australia courts Philippines

Last week, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visited Australia and spoke to the country’s parliament, stating he would defend his country’s claims in the South China Sea. In his address, Marcos Jr. said he “will not allow any attempt by any foreign power,” understood to mean China, “to take even one square inch of our sovereign territory.”

Australia and the Philippines upgraded relations to a “strategic partnership” in 2023 during a visit by Albanese to Manila — the first by an Australian leader in 20 years. During Marcos Jr.’s visit, the two countries signed agreements on maritime security, cyber, and critical technology.

Canberra’s ASEAN engagement

The first ASEAN-Australia Special Summit took place in Sydney in 2018, but Australia’s long been a leader in ASEAN engagement: this week's summit commemorated 50 years since Australia became ASEAN's first Dialogue Partner.

In 2023, Australia launched its sweeping Southeast Asia economic strategy, which recommended, among other policies, strengthening Southeast Asia literacy in Australia, boosting diplomatic capacities, and facilitating more foreign investment. Australia’s two-way trade with ASEAN totals C$159 billion per year, about four times more than annual ASEAN-Canada trade flows.

This week in Kuala Lumpur, Canada and ASEAN wrapped their seventh round of free trade agreement negotiations. Last year, Canada became an ASEAN Strategic Partner — a symbolic title upgrade acknowledging expanding co-operation — and will celebrate 50 years as an ASEAN Dialogue Partner in 2027.