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12 April 2024: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

12 Apr 2024
By Dr Adam Bartley

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Japan considered for AUKUS Pillar II; the Australia-Japan-Philippines-United States Maritime Cooperative Activity; special adviser announced to investigate Israel Defense Forces strikes; Julie Bishop to be United Nations Special Envoy on Myanmar, and more.

On 9 April, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles released a joint statement with Secretary of State for Defence, United Kingdom, Grant Shapps, and Secretary of Defense, United States, Lloyd J. Austin III, outlining their ongoing commitment to implement “the Optimal Pathway for Australia’s acquisition of conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines.” The statement highlighted the focus on investment in defence industry, and legislative changes in the US, with “the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024,” and in Australia the Defence Trade Controls Amendment Act 2024 “that provides the reciprocal national exemption for the United States and the United Kingdom.” The statement also announced ongoing support for AUKUS pillar II and the new “collaboration opportunities,” including “recognising Japan’s strengths and its close bilateral defense partnerships with all three countries.” The AUKUS partners are currently “considering cooperation with Japan on AUKUS Pillar II advanced capability projects.”

At a press conference at Parliament House, Canberra, also on 9 April, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressed questions about China’s concern with Japan joining AUKUS. Albanese remarked that “Japan is a natural candidate” to join on projects related to AUKUS pillar II, but that an expansion of AUKUS membership was “not proposed.” Albanese further noted that Australia had “already stepped up [Australia’s] defence relationship with Japan in agreements […] signed with Prime Minister [Fumio] Kishida, including access by Japan for Australian bases and Australia to have access in Japan as well.” Additional “joint naval operations with Japan” have also taken place in Australia. Marles stated further that “AUKUS is not a security alliance” but rather a “technology sharing agreement.”

Marles issued a joint statement on 6 April with Austin III, Secretary of National Defense, Philippines, Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr., and Minister of Defense, Japan, Minoru Kihara on Australia-Japan-Philippines-United States Maritime Cooperative Activity (MCA). In recognition of rights in international law and UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the members demonstrated their “collective commitment to strengthen regional and international cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.” The combined defense/armed forces activity took place within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone on 7 April, 2024. The MCA was conducted by “naval/maritime and air force units in a manner that is consistent with international law as well as domestic laws and rules of respective nations, and with due regard to the safety of navigation and the rights and interests of other states.” The MCA seeks to “strengthen the interoperability of our defense/armed forces doctrines, tactics, techniques, and procedures,” the statement read.

On 8 April, Foreign Minister Penny Wong released a statement announcing the appointment of a “Special Adviser to the Australian Government on Israel’s response to the Israel Defense Forces strikes which killed Zomi Frankcom, and six of her World Central Kitchen colleagues.” The position has been given to Air Chief Marshal Binskin, who will be tasked with providing “advice to the Australian Government regarding any further representations or actions that could be taken to ensure a full and transparent investigation and to hold those responsible to account.” His work will include examination of the “arrangements for the investigation of this incident, IDF [Israel Defense Force] policies and procedures for operational incidents, measures taken to hold those responsible to account, if further investigation is warranted, [and] measures adopted to prevent such incidents happening again.”

Also on April 6, Wong released a statement welcoming “the United Nations Secretary-General’s appointment of former foreign minister the Hon Julie Bishop as the United Nations Special Envoy on Myanmar.” The statement noted “that Australia will work closely with Ms Bishop as United Nations Special Envoy, ASEAN and the international community to deploy our collective efforts to build conditions for sustainable peace in the country.” The government continues to call “on the Myanmar regime to cease violence against civilians, release those unjustly detained, allow safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance, and return Myanmar to the path of inclusive democracy.” The Special Envoy will play “a vital role in sustaining international attention and supporting coordinated efforts towards a peaceful resolution in the interests of the people of Myanmar.”

In a joint media release with Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Minister for Defence Industries Pat Conroy on 7 April, Wong announced that the government was “investing up to $45.5 million in six new initiatives to strengthen health systems across the Pacific and Southeast Asia.” The package includes, “training for essential health workforce skills, including critical care, nursing and midwifery, and support to improve disease surveillance and response, including tackling the increasing challenge of antimicrobial resistance,” as well as “funding to strengthen health information systems, so that health workers have the data they need to manage health services, including having the right medicines in stock.”

Also in a joint statement on 7 April, with Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts, Wong marked “30 years since the start of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, a period of unspeakable brutality and inhumanity.” The statement honour[s] those who lost their lives and the resilience of those who carry forward their memories,” acknowledging further “the deep suffering of the Rwandan people.” “Australia remains unwavering in its support for accountability for serious international crimes committed in Rwanda, including through the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, which carries forward the legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.”

Dr Adam Bartley is the managing editor for AIIA’s Australian Outlook and weekly columnist for The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs. He is a former Fulbright Scholar and resident fellow at the Elliot School for International Affairs, the George Washington University. Adam also has positions as post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Cyber Security Research and Innovation RMIT University  and as program manager of the AI Trilateral Experts Group. He can be found on Twitter here.

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