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10 November 2023: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

10 Nov 2023
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Albanese’s official visit to China; Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting; Wong in Japan; and more.

From 4 to 7 November, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese undertook an official visit to China on the invitation of Li Qiang, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, “to mark the 50th anniversary of the first visit to China by an Australian Prime Minister, the Hon Edward Gough Whitlam.” He referred to the visit as “a significant step forward in stabilising relations between Australia and China” and that it demonstrated “Australia’s commitment to dialogue as the most effective way to deliver our national interests.” Albanese noted that he “discussed the full range of Australia’s interests during his visit, including trade, consular, human rights, regional and multilateral issues” and that he “underlined our enduring commitment to pursuing Australia’s national interest, and the vital importance of open dialogue.” Moreover, Albanese emphasised that “leaders agreed to resume engagement and dialogue between Australia and China at the highest levels and between officials, important aspects of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.”

Albanese met with Xi Jinping, President of China, on 7 November, and the leaders “had an in-depth exchange of views on China-Australia relations, as well as on regional and international issues.” They “reaffirmed their support for the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and reiterated the importance of a stable, constructive bilateral relationship.” The leaders “acknowledged the importance of political dialogue and welcomed the continuing stabilisation and development of the bilateral political relationship” and “agreed that a series of meetings between the leadership and ministers of both countries since 2022 as well as the resumption of key foreign policy and economic dialogues were in the interests of both countries.” They also “reaffirmed the importance of the UN Charter and compliance with their WTO commitments and agreed to continue to work together in the United Nations, G20, APEC, East Asia Summit and other multilateral platforms.” Moreover, “China welcomed the invitation of the Australian side for Chinese leaders to visit Australia at a mutually convenient time.” Albanese also met with Zhao Leji, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, on 6 November.

While in China, Albanese addressed the China International Import Expo in Shanghai on 5 November. He noted that in the 50 years since Gough Whitlam’s visit, “both our economies have transformed and modernised and diversified in ways that our predecessors could not have imagined” and that “both our nations have benefited from a region that has grown and prospered, become more open and interconnected – a region that has been stable and peaceful.” Albanese emphasised that the bilateral relationship is a “mature relationship, energised by the complementary nature of our economies” and that “Australia and China have prospered thanks to the certainty and stability that is made possible by rules-based trade.” He further stated that “every country has a role to play in advancing trade that is both sustainable and inclusive” and that “these are goals we can achieve through our domestic policies, and through fostering open and inclusive regional and international architecture.” Albanese emphasised that “like China, we value our place at the table in the G20, APEC and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership” and that “constructive economic engagement between countries helps to build relationships and understanding – both of common interests, and where there are differences.” Minister for Trade Don Farrell also travelled to Shanghai for the China International Import Expo at the invitation of Chinese Minister of Commerce, Wang Wentao. He noted that “trade between Australia and China has delivered significant benefits to both our countries” and that his visit was “another opportunity to advocate for Australian business, including for the full resumption of unimpeded Australian exports to China.”

From 7 to 9 November, Albanese and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy travelled to Cook Islands for the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting. Ahead of the meeting, Albanese stated that “Australia sees the Pacific as family and none of us can achieve the future we want alone” and that “working together, through the Pacific Islands Forum, is vital to securing a shared Pacific that is peaceful, safe and prosperous.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles joined United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defence Grant Shapps at Rolls Royce’s nuclear reactor manufacturing site in Derby, where they met with Australian industry personnel undertaking placement within the UK defence industry. Marles noted that the placements “are part of the broader efforts by Australia, with the support of the United Kingdom and the United States, to develop the workforce required to build and sustain our conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines and uphold the highest standards of nuclear safety and security.” He also stated that “Australia is working closely with the UK and the US to progressively develop the skills, knowledge and expertise to safely and securely build, operate and maintain nuclear-powered submarines” and thanked “the UK and the US for their commitment through AUKUS to transferring not just their technology, but also their skills, knowledge and expertise for the safe and successful delivery of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine program.”

On 5 November, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong announced the appointment of Dr Lucas de Toca as Australia’s Ambassador for Global Health and Greer Alblas as Australia’s Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Australia to UNESCO. As Ambassador for Global Health, Dr de Toca “will advance Australia’s interests in the global health system, ensuring it delivers for the Pacific and Southeast Asia, so we can be better prepared for future health emergencies.” Dr de Toca is a “medical doctor, adjunct professor in medicine, and public health expert with extensive experience in pandemic response, First Nations health and rural health service delivery.” He currently leads the Global Health Division and the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, managing Australia’s relationship with multilateral health organisations and Australia’s international development assistance in health. The role of UNESCO Ambassador “will now be full-time, reflecting a step up in Australia’s commitment to UNESCO” and will “increase our ability to bring Australian expertise and experience to UNESCO’s work.” Alblas is a career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and most recently was Director, Curriculum and Outreach, Diplomatic Academy.

Wong issued a statement on 3 November on Russia’s decision to revoke its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which she referred to as “an affront to all who want a world without nuclear weapons.” She stated that “President Putin is once again showing his contempt for international rules and norms in pursuit of his own political objectives” and that “his actions undermine global peace and stability.” Wong also noted that “Australia urges all countries which have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Treaty without delay.”

On 7 November, Wong travelled to Japan to meet with Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamikawa Yōko and Japanese National Security Advisor Akiba Takeo. They discussed “Australia and Japan’s approach to regional challenges, as well as the Israel-Hamas conflict.” Wong emphasised that Australia and Japan “have never been closer” and that “Australia is committed to remaining a long-term energy security partner for Japan while taking ambitious climate action together.” She also noted that “Japan and Australia share an ambition for an Indo-Pacific that is peaceful, stable and prosperous, in which sovereignty is respected.”

Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs Matt Keogh travelled to the United Kingdom on 7 November to “participate in Remembrance Day commemorations to honour the service and sacrifice of Australian and British personnel who have lost their lives in war, conflict and peacekeeping operations.” During his visit, he undertook “a series of engagements with [his] UK Ministerial counterparts to share best practice strategies and learnings for supporting Defence personnel, veterans and families.”

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts travelled to France this week, to represent Australia at the Paris Peace Forum, One Planet Polar Summit, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) General Conference and the International Humanitarian Conference for the Civilian Population of Gaza. He will also meet with French Government counterparts “to continue discussions on the Australia-France Roadmap, as agreed by Prime Minister Albanese and President Macron in July 2022.”

On 9 November, Watts delivered Australia’s National Statement to the 42nd Session of the UNESCO General Conference. He emphasised that it is “vital that all Member States continue to play their part and make their voices heard in supporting the work of our Organization.” Watts referred to Australia’s “longstanding involvement in the development of the Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications though early ratification and active engagement in its implementation”, close engagement with the Global Taskforce for Indigenous Languages, and “deep commitment to the aims and values of the World Heritage Convention”. He also noted that Australia’s nomination to the Executive Board 2023 – 2027 reflects its determination to “step up to do even more to protect the international system and help it evolve to meet the challenges of today and those of the future.”

Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite opened the Kokoda Gallery and World War II Exhibition at Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea on 3 November. He referred to the Gallery and Exhibition as “bear[ing] to the love of mate for mate, and the bonds that were forged between our two nations.” He noted that the Government “is proud to have jointly funded this project with the Papua New Guinean Government as a gift to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.”

Isabella Keith is a weekly columnist for Australian Outlook. She is also a Research Assistant, Sessional Academic, and Honours student in Law at the Australian National University, with a focus on international law. Isabella attended the AIIA #NextGen study tour to South Korea last year, and was also a delegate to the AIIA’s Australia-Korea-New Zealand and Australia-United States-Japan Policy Forums. She can be found on Twitter here.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.