The country is currently in the process of finding a manager for the project, called the Mekong-Australia Program on Transnational Crime. It will aim to tackle financial crimes, illicit drugs, child sexual exploitation and human trafficking and is due to focus on Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
A spokesperson from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it was aiming to strengthen “engagement with partners” in the region.
They also claimed transnational crime in the region generates tens of billions of dollars each year.
Ben Bland, director of the south-east Asia programme at the Lowy Institute think tank in Australia, has said the law enforcement push is being made in a region “where China is playing an increasingly dominant role”.
He told The Guardian: “If Australia and its partners such as the US and Japan want to counterbalance Beijing, they need to find more ways to help the region tackle the day-to-day problems it faces, such as transnational crime.”
However he also noted Australia has a “direct national interest” in cracking down on illegal activity in the region since many of the criminal organisations there have links to Australia such as through money laundering.
In a document outlining the programme, DFAT said it could “coordinate” with China as part of the programme where possible.
“Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam (the Mekong Countries) and neighbouring southern China are experiencing significant changes as a result of shifting power dynamics and large-scale energy and infrastructure development.”
Last week, the Australian Department of Defence said Australian military ships and aircraft would maintain a presence in the South China Sea amid ongoing tensions between Beijing and Taiwan.
A department spokesperson told The Guardian: “Australian vessels and aircraft will continue to exercise rights under international law to freedom of navigation and overflight, including in the South China Sea, and we support others doing the same.”
They added Australia is monitoring the situation between China and Taiwan. Wu Qian, a spokesperson for China’s defence ministry, said on Thursday that “seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ means nothing but war,” according to a summary of a monthly press conference.