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10 September: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

10 Sep 2021
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Pfizer dose swap with the UK, Frydenberg and Dutton’s speeches, Payne and Dutton’s upcoming overseas trip, the 28th PNG-Australia Ministerial Forum, and more.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, and Minister for Health Greg Hunt jointly announced on 3 September that four million Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses will arrive in Australia from the United Kingdom. The Ministers described the arrangement as ‘a historic partnership between the Australian and United Kingdom governments.’ Australia will receive four million doses in September, while Australia will send four million Pfizer doses to the United Kingdom ‘from Australian supplies in late 2021’. Morrison stated that ‘Australia has no greater friend than the UK and I would like to thank the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his deep commitment to Australia and his personal and direct engagement on this partnership agreement.’

On 6 September, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg delivered a speech at the Australian National University on ‘building resilience and the return of strategic competition.’ Frydenberg stated that ‘Australia will always choose partnerships ahead of conflict, wherever we can. However, heightened strategic competition is the new reality we face.’ He further noted that ‘China’s trade actions carry a cost to both Australia and China’ and that both nations would be ‘better off if markets were allowed to operate freely.’ Frydenberg advised that Australian businesses ‘should always be looking to diversify their markets, and not overly rely on one country’ in what he referred to as a ‘China plus’ strategy.

Minister for Defence Peter Dutton addressed the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia on 8 September. He stated that ‘[Chinese Communist Party] spokespersons … [have] become increasingly bellicose over recent years’ and that the Party has become ‘increasingly coercive, driven by a zero-sum mentality.’ Dutton further stated that ‘the times in which we live have echoes of the 1930s’ and the present regional environment is ‘far more complex and far less predictable than at any time since the Second World War.’ He noted that ‘Australia wants a positive and constructive relationship with China, but the onus is now on the CCP to demonstrate – through words and deeds – that China will contribute to the Indo-Pacific’s stability, not to continue to undermine it.’

On 8 September, Payne and Dutton issued a media release on their upcoming joint visit to Indonesia, India, the Republic of Korea, and the United States. The trip will ‘advance Australia’s relationships with our close friends and strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific region’. Payne stated that ‘among the most pressing issues for discussion was cooperation on our region’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensuring the recovery takes place in a way that reflects our values and principles.’ Dutton noted that ‘the visits are an important opportunity to build on already strong defence relationships, particularly with the United States on the 17th anniversary of the ANZUS alliance.’ The Ministers will participate in the first Australia-United States Ministerial consultations (AUSMIN) with the Biden Administration, as well as bilateral 2+2 meetings with their counterparts in each country.

Payne and her Papua New Guinean counterpart Soroi Marepo Eoe virtually co-chaired the 28th Papua New Guinea-Australia Ministerial Forum on 2 September. Also in attendance were Minister for Defence Peter Dutton, Minister for Health Greg Hunt, Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews, Minister for Trade Dan Tehan, and Minister for International Development Zed Seselja, as well as their Papua New Guinean counterparts. The Ministers ‘discussed priorities for implementing [the] Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership’ and noted their shared commitment to ‘meeting current economic, development and security challenges, particularly those posed by COVID-19.’

On 2 September, Australia delivered 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines to Indonesia, as the first instalment of Australia’s commitment to share 2.5 million AstraZeneca doses with Indonesia in 2021. Payne noted that ‘Australia is working closely with Indonesia and other partners across our region to improve equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, helping to save lives and support our shared economic recovery from the pandemic.’

The MIKTA partnership, comprising Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia, issued a statement on 8 September about the natural disasters in Turkey and other parts of Europe in July and August 2021. Payne and her MIKTA counterparts ‘extend[ed] [their] deepest sympathies and condolences to the families who have lost loved ones.’ They also ‘reaffirm[ed] the collective will for urgent global climate action’.

On 6 September, Tehan delivered a speech to the Foreign Correspondents Association on ‘developments and emerging issues in Australia’s trade and related industries with the countries of the Indo-Pacific and further afield.’ Tehan noted that Australia’s trade ‘with many of our major trading partners has remained healthy, despite demand and price impacts related to COVID, as economic recovery in those markets has supported trade.’ He further stated that ‘President Biden’s elevation of the Quad partnership between Australia, the United States, Japan and India to a leader-level forum has sent a great signal through the pandemic.’

Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alex Hawke chaired the Ministerial Forum on Multicultural Affairs with his State and Territory counterparts on 8 September. The Forum met to discuss Commonwealth, State and Territory support ‘for the resettlement of Afghan nationals in response to events in Afghanistan.’ The Ministers ‘committed to work together in partnership’ and noted the ‘strong desire of the Australian community to support the successful settlement of people newly arrived from Afghanistan.’

On 5 September, the Department of Defence announced that the Northern Territory is hosting the fourth iteration of the biennial AUSINDEX maritime warfare exercises between the Royal Australian Navy and the Indian Navy. Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Mark Hammond, noted that ‘each time our nations come together we develop further maritime interoperability by exercising more involved warfare serials demonstrating our strong commitment to an open, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.’ Rear Admiral Tarun Sobti said the exercise would ‘build on the recent navy-to-navy warfare training that was conducted during Phase One of Exercise MALABAR 21 off Guam’.

The Department of Defence issued a statement on 6 September acknowledging that more than 2000 troops from the Australian Defence Force and United States Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D) had completed Exercise Koolendong, a ‘high-end live-fire warfighting exercise’ at Bradshaw Field Training Area in the Northern Territory.’ Commander 1st Brigade Brigadier Ash Collingburn said the Exercise ‘confirmed the ability of United States and Australian forces to quickly respond to crises in the region if needed.’ Commanding Officer MRF-D Colonel David Banning noted that the Exercise ‘demonstrated that the US and Australia alliance was as strong as ever’ and that it ‘has never been more important as we look ahead to our shared strategic challenges in the region.’

Isabella Keith is a weekly columnist for Australian Outlook. She is also an undergraduate student at the Australian National University studying Law and Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Isabella’s research interests include international law and comparative constitutional law.

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