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15 September 2023: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

15 Sep 2023
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Albanese attends G20, ASEAN-Australia Summit and East Asia Summit; Philippines relationship elevated to Strategic Partnership; Wong at Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Fiji; and more

Prime Minister Albanese joined world leaders in New Delhi last weekend for the G20 Leaders’ Summit “to discuss collective responses to the world’s most pressing economic challenges.” The leaders discussed global measures to ease cost-of-living pressures, including free, fair and rules-based trade, enhancing supply chain resilience and shoring up food and energy security. While at the Summit, Albanese met with Indian Prime Minister Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida. Albanese and Kishida “welcomed early progress under the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation, including the recent entry into force of the Australia-Japan Reciprocal Access Agreement.” Albanese also attended a MIKTA Leaders’ Gathering with Mexico, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea and Türkiye, where leaders “discussed how to enhance inter-regional cooperation and strengthen multilateralism to target global challenges.”

On 8 September, Albanese met with leaders from across the Indo-Pacific at the 3rd Annual ASEAN-Australia Summit and the 18th East Asia Summit in Jakarta. At the East Asia Summit, Albanese “reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to deepening engagement with our Southeast Asia partners and working with them to address shared challenges such as the climate crisis” and “discussed key strategic issues with regional counterparts – including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the crisis in Myanmar and the South China Sea.” At the ASEAN-Australia Summit, Albanese and ASEAN leaders “discussed how they could work together to alleviate food security pressures impacting their communities.” Albanese announced two initiatives to support regional food security: investment in the ASEAN-CGIAR Innovate for Food Regional Program to support joint research to develop new agricultural practices and technologies, and expansion of the Meryl Williams Fellowships for women in agricultural science to enable “approximately 20 fellows from ASEAN member states and Timor-Leste to undertake study programs in Australia.”

While in Jakarta, Albanese also announced the second tranche of initiatives under the $200 million Australia-Indonesia Climate and Infrastructure Partnership, including $50 million to “de-risk private infrastructure projects to support Indonesia’s net-zero ambitions” and $100 million to “support Indonesia’s sustainable finance and just energy transition agenda.” Moreover, the second tranche of funding will also “support the establishment of a bilateral mechanism to advance collaboration on the EV ecosystem under the Partnership.”

On 8 September, Albanese and President Ferdinand R Marcos Jr of the Philippines elevated the bilateral relationship from a Comprehensive Partnership to a Strategic Partnership, “in the spirit of friendship, and founded on shared democratic values and a common vision for the region where strategic agency is freely exercised and sovereignty is upheld.” The leaders “reaffirm[ed] [their] shared interests in building prosperity and preserving peace in the Indo-Pacific” and emphasised that they “recognise that stability in the region is anchored on respect for national sovereignty and shaped by long-standing agreed rules and norms, based on international law.” They also discussed political and strategic cooperation, defence and security cooperation, economic relations, the environment, and people-to-people links.

While in Manila, Albanese also announced several initiatives to “boost ties with the Philippines”, including doubling the number of Australia Awards Scholarships to the Philippines to over 50 recipients, re-establishing a Philippines Institute at the Australian National University, a reciprocal Work and Holiday visa for Australians and Filipinos, and a new $64.5 million contribution to peacebuilding in Mindanao over five years. Albanese is the first Australian Prime Minister to travel to the Philippines on a bilateral visit since 2003, and invited President Marcos to Australia in March 2024 to attend a Special Summit to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN-Australia Dialogue Relations.

On 13 September, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong travelled to Fiji to attend the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. In Suva, Wong will meet Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sitiveni Rabuka to “discuss enhancing our Partnership, strengthening our economies, responding to the climate crisis and delivering for our shared regional interests.” Wong referred to the PIF Foreign Ministers’ Meeting as “an opportunity to listen, share ideas and act together, to build a peaceful, stable and prosperous region” and that “ministers will discuss how we respond to the challenges we face with a regional approach, including standing together in responding to climate change.”

Wong announced targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on four individuals and three entities responsible for the oppression of people in Iran, including women and girls. This is the first time the Australian Government has imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans under the recently expanded Iran autonomous sanctions framework. Targeted entities include Iran’s Cyber Police, which is “central to obstructing freedom of expression through restricting internet activity in Iran”, as well as Press TV, “the state-backed TV channel which has broadcast the forced confessions of Iranians and dual-nationals who are detained and tried under politically motivated judicial procedures.” Wong emphasised that the Government “will continue to take decisive and targeted action to hold Iran to account for its egregious human rights violations.”

On 13 September, Wong, alongside Minister for International Development Pat Conroy and Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts, issued a joint statement announcing $1 million in emergency humanitarian assistance to people affected by the earthquake in Morocco last weekend. The funds “will be provided through local organisations including the Red Cross and Red Crescent to deliver immediate life-saving assistance including emergency shelter, first aid, protection and psychological support.” The Ministers noted that Australia “stands ready to consider further requests for assistance.”

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.

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