Credit: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government

Credit: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government

Initiatives on cybersecurity, digital trade and smart cities announced at inaugural ASEAN-Australia Summit

The inaugural ASEAN-Australia Special Summit concluded on March 18, with the regional leaders agreeing on the Sydney Declaration. The Declaration sets out a vision for the future of the ASEAN-Australia partnership and commitment to drive regional economic integration and elevate cooperation on complex regional challenges including cyber, maritime and people trafficking.

Combating terrorism and violent extremism

Australia and ASEAN signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation to Counter International Terrorism. The MoU is supported by a suite of programs, including technical and regulatory assistance to develop best practice counter-terrorism legislation, and regional dialogues and workshops on topics such as electronic evidence, financial intelligence, and countering online radicalisation.

As part of the MOU, Australia will provide technical assistance to ASEAN partners to develop and implement counter-terrorsim legislation in line with international standards and best practice. Australia will also provide a capacity-building program to ASEAN law enforcement partners on technology enabled crime to assist in detecting and disrupting terrorist activity.

Other initiatives include the AUSTRAC Codeathon and an ASEAN-Australia workshop on using electronic evidence in terrorism related prosecutions. A range of ASEAN-Australia financial intelligence analyst courses will facilitate more integrated multilateral intelligence exchanges and operational collaboration to counter terrorism financing.


The Sydney Declaration includes a commitment to deepening cooperation on cyber security. It also expresses a shared commitment to promote an open, secure, stable, accessible and peaceful ICT environment consistent with each state’s respective domestic laws and regulations.

The signatories affirmed their commitment to promoting international stability for cyberspace based on existing international law, cooperative capacity building, practical confidence building measures, voluntary, and non-binding norms of responsible behaviour taking reference from the 2015 Report of the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security.

(Last year, at the second ASEAN Ministerial Conference on Cybersecurity, ASEAN Member States expressed their support for the development of basic, operational and voluntary norms of behaviour to guide the use of ICTs in a responsible manner, with reference to the UNGGE report mentioned above.)

Speaking at a press conference at the Summit, the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, said, “The threat is global, and technology in many ways has amplified the problem; the use of social media and encrypted messaging applications is a challenge for us all and one we must tackle together. The laws that apply offline must apply online.”

“And just as the terrorists’ networks are transnational, so must be our collaboration, and nowhere more so than in the sharing of intelligence. The use of cyberspace by terrorists and criminals presents an increasing challenge for all our agencies – it was a key focus of our discussions. And so, an important initiative of the ASEAN-Australia Counter-Terrorism Summit was the transnational agreement to share cyber intelligence and policing resources.”

ASEAN-Australia Smart Cities initiative

Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced the A$30 million ASEAN-Australia Smart Cities initiative to enhance collaboration between ASEAN and Australia on smart and sustainable city design, and further promote regional economic integration and prosperity.

As part of the initiative, ASEAN and Australia will work together over the next five years to bolster ASEAN’s capacity to create future cities that are smart and sustainable. Australia will provide education, training, technical assistance and support for innovation to ASEAN, and also invest in the Study to Advance Sustainable Urbanisation in ASEAN, a significant regional urbanisation forum in 2018, capacity building and training, scholarships, and competitive grant funding.

ASEAN-Australia Smart Cities draws on Australia’s world-class expertise in green infrastructure, water governance, renewable energy, innovative technologies, data analytics and transportation.

In a press conference at the Summit, the Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong said, “There are clear synergies within the ASEAN Australia smart cities initiative and ASEAN’s own smart cities network.” As the Chair of ASEAN in 2018, Singapore is building the ASEAN Smart Cities Network to connect people and economies seamlessly.

Digital trade

The Australian Government announced a joint initiative with the ten countries of ASEAN to promote digital trade and support inclusive economic growth in the region.

The ASEAN-Australia Digital Trade Standards initiative provides a framework for Australia and ASEAN countries to cooperate in developing, adopting and using international standards that promote digital trade and support inclusive economic growth in the region.

The rapid global spread of digital technology presents opportunities for governments, consumers and business, particularly Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). These include new digital trading opportunities, jobs, investment and improvements in living standards. However, the benefits of digitalisation are not always shared equally. 

International standards that enable digital trade will remove barriers that prevent businesses from accessing regional markets and create new opportunities for jobs and growth. It will help share the benefits of a more inclusive digital economy.

This initiative complements existing ASEAN priorities on the digital economy and builds on Australia and ASEAN’s history of cooperation to promote regional economic integration.

The Sydney declaration includes a commitment to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth and prosperity, through supporting digital trade, entrepreneurship, help developing a digital-ready workforce, and promoting our region's further integration into the global marketplace.

Economic Integration and Infrastructure Cooperation

The ASEAN-Australia Infrastructure Cooperation initiative will develop a pipeline of high-quality infrastructure projects, to attract private and public investment and improve regional connectivity.

Complementing this initiative, an ASEAN linkage to the Sydney-based G20 Global Infrastructure Hub will increase collaboration between the public sector and private investors towards funding ASEAN infrastructure projects.

The ASEAN-Australia Economic Cooperation initiative will support a more economically integrated region, through a series of workshops on critical reforms for Australia and ASEAN countries including on taxation policy; regulatory reform and governance; competition and innovation; budget policy; and macroeconomic and financial frameworks.

Indonesia-Australia maritime cooperation

A Maritime Cooperation Plan of Action was signed between Indonesia and Australia to implement the Joint Declaration on Maritime Cooperation signed in February 2017.

The Plan encompasses 85 separate activities involving 17 Australian and 20 Indonesian agencies. It will drive increased bilateral cooperation across the following priorities: economic development, maritime security, combatting illegal fishing, maritime safety, search and rescue, marine science collaboration, sustainable management of marine resources, maritime cultural heritage and working together in regional and multilateral fora.

Australia also announced a new, four-year bilateral Maritime Capacity Building Initiative in Indonesia to support implementation of the Plan.

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