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14 January: The Month in Australian Foreign Affairs

14 Jan 2022
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This past month in Australian foreign affairs: Australia-Japan Leaders’ Meeting, Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement signed, diplomatic announcements, and more.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison virtually met with his Japanese counterpart Prime Minister Kishida on 6 January for the Australia-Japan Leaders’ Meeting. The leaders reaffirmed their commitment to their Special Strategic Partnership and longstanding ties. They also signed the landmark Reciprocal Access Agreement between Australia and Japan (Australia-Japan RAA) which underscores “their commitment to further elevating bilateral security and defence cooperation in the interests of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.” The leaders further announced Australia’s AUD $150 million investment in hydrogen energy supply chain projects under the Japan-Australia Partnership on Decarbonisation through Technology.

On 17 December, Morrison and Minister for Trade Dan Tehan announced the signing of the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Tehan signed the agreement on behalf of Australia during a virtual ceremony that day with UK Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan. The Morrison Government will work to bring the agreement into force in 2022, at which point “around 75 per cent of Australia’s two-way trade will be covered by free trade agreements.” Morrison and Tehan referred to the FTA as “the most comprehensive and ambitious free trade agreement that Australia has concluded, other than with New Zealand” and that it “demonstrates our countries’ commitment to free trade as a driver of economic growth and stronger bilateral relationships.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne announced several new diplomatic appointments on 20 December: Amanda Gorely as Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva; William Costello as Ambassador to Timor-Leste; Fiona Hoggart as Consul-General in Surabaya; Scott Ryan as High Commissioner to Canada; and Sarah Hooper as Consul-General in Ho Chi Minh City. Later that week, Payne also announced the appointment of Dr Geoffrey Shaw as the Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, and the appointment of James Movick as the Director of the Pacific Fusion Centre.

Payne, along with her Five Eyes counterparts, released a joint statement on the Legislative Council Elections in Hong Kong on 20 December. The Ministers expressed their “grave concern over the erosion of the democratic elements of the Special Administrative Region’s electoral system” and noted that these actions “undermine Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy.” They further stated that they “remain gravely concerned at the wider chilling effect of the National Security Law and the growing restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly”. The Ministers jointly urged the People’s Republic of China to “act in accordance with its international obligations to respect protected rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong.”

On 21 December, Payne issued a joint statement with her counterparts from Mexico, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, and Turkey (comprising MIKTA) welcoming Indonesia’s 2022 G20 Presidency. The MIKTA members noted that they “support the emphasis Indonesia plans to bring to the G20 by focusing on how the G20 can be relevant to developing nations and those who are in the most vulnerable situations.”

Payne announced on 23 December that Australia will provide $5 million in emergency relief to the Philippines following the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Rai. This funding will be allocated across various organisations including the Philippines Red Cross, UN Population Fund, World Food Programme, and local NGOs to assist with the distribution of food, shelter, water, hygiene kits, and other support.

Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews visited the United States, Sri Lanka and Indonesia in mid-December. In the United States, she met with a range of senior officials and law enforcement partners to deepen cyber security collaboration. During her visit, the United States and Australia signed the CLOUD Act Agreement to facilitate reciprocal access to electronic data for investigations of serious crime. Andrews also addressed the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., where she discussed Australia’s “robust multi-layered approach to cybersecurity” that is built on the “three core concepts” of “support for industry,” “support for security agencies and law enforcement” and “support for citizens.” In her address, Andrews also referred to the CLOUD Act Agreement as continuing Australia and the United States’ “long tradition of working in lockstep to secure the rules-based international order and assure global peace and prosperity.”

In Sri Lanka, Andrews attended the opening of the Sri Lankan Border Risk Assessment Centre (BRAC) at the Department of Immigration in Colombo. She noted that Australia had financially supported the establishment of the BRAC as part of the Australia-Sri Lanka Integrated Border Management Project. Andrews also met with her Sri Lankan counterpart, Chamal Rajapaksa, to discuss bilateral collaboration on border security, including through the Australia-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on Counter People Smuggling and Other Transnational Crime.

During her visit to Indonesia, Andrews co-chaired the 8th annual Australian-Indonesian Ministerial Council Meeting with her Indonesian counterpart Mohammad Mahfud on 23 December. The Ministers acknowledged their “longstanding and strong partnership” and discussed recent cooperation between the two nations on counter-terrorism, preventing violent extremism, and maritime and cyber security. Andrews stated that the two nations’ “collaboration to keep citizens safe and secure and to protect their long-term economic prosperity reflects our mutual commitment to justice and the rule of law.” She further extended an invitation to host Indonesia in Australia in 2022 to host the next Ministerial Council Meeting.

On 1 January, Tehan announced that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) had come into force for Australia, New Zealand, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Japan, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, with the Republic of Korea to follow one month later. Tehan noted that RCEP is “the world’s largest free trade agreement” and “will help stimulate growth and investment across the region, providing increased opportunities for Australian business.” He also stated that “RCEP will further strengthen Australia’s trade relationship with ASEAN at a crucial point in ASEAN’s economic development.”

Tehan issued a joint statement with his Indian counterpart Piyush Goyal following a video conference on 21 December where the Ministers agreed to expedite the bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) negotiations. The Ministers noted that they have both “decided to deepen the engagement and directed the officials [negotiating the agreement] to speed up the negotiations to pave the way for a comprehensive agreement.” They further stated that they “look forward to a balanced trade agreement that encourages benefit to both the economies and their people, and that reflects their shared commitment to a rules-based international trading system.”

On 21 December, Tehan announced the publication of the Australia-Vietnam Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy, which “sets out a roadmap to boost our trade and investment ties with Vietnam.” Tehan welcomed the Strategy as “the foundation for Australia and Vietnam’s effort to double investment and become top ten trading partners.”

Minister for Defence Peter Dutton met virtually with his Fijian counterpart Inia Seruiratu on 22 December for the third annual Defence Ministers’ Meeting. The Ministers spoke about “the mutual value they derive from responding to security challenges in the Pacific together” and noted that military personnel from both nations had “become accustomed to supporting one another and working closely during difficult times.” The two nations agreed to “pursue greater interoperability between their armed forces, including an information sharing arrangement to make it easier for personnel to embed with the others’ system.”

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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