The East Asian–Indonesian–Australian summer monsoon (EAIASM) links the Earth’s hemispheres and provides a heat source that drives global circulation. At seasonal and inter-seasonal timescales, the summer monsoon of one hemisphere is linked via outflows from the winter monsoon of the opposing hemisphere. Long-term phase relationships between the East Asian summer monsoon (EASM) and the Indonesian–Australian summer monsoon (IASM) are poorly understood, raising questions of long-term adjustments to future greenhouse-triggered climate change and whether these changes could ‘lock in’ possible IASM and EASM phase relationships in a region dependent on monsoonal rainfall. Here we show that a newly developed nonlinear time series analysis technique allows confident identification of strong versus weak monsoon phases at millennial to sub-centennial timescales. We find a see–saw relationship over the last 9,000 years—with strong and weak monsoons opposingly phased and triggered by solar variations. Our results provide insights into centennial- to millennial-scale relationships within the wider EAIASM regime.