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17 December: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

17 Dec 2021
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Moon Jae-in visits Canberra, Morrison addresses the Summit for Democracy, Payne attends the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and more.

On 13 December, President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra. President Moon is the first foreign leader to visit Australia since the outbreak of COVID-19. In a joint statement, the leaders recognised the two nations’ 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations and announced the elevation of their relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP). The CSP is centred around enhanced cooperation in three areas: “strategic and security, innovation and technology, and people-to-people exchange.”

Morrison further announced that a $1 billion defence contract for new Self-Propelled Howitzers was awarded to Hanwha Defense Australia. He stated that “our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with the Republic of Korea is underpinned by our joint commitment to defence and security cooperation. The contract with Hanwha demonstrates the value of industrial collaboration in supporting our country in addressing mutual security challenges.”

On 13 December, Morrison also revealed that Australia and the Republic of Korea had “cemented their commitment to a net zero emissions future, by agreeing detailed work plans on clean energy technology and critical minerals.” This announcement followed discussions at the COP26 Summit in Glasgow last month. Morrison referred to the agreement as “the next step in identifying real-world opportunities and nailing down a collective approach to funding.” Australia and the Republic of Korea have each committed an initial $50 million to the partnership.

Morrison virtually addressed the Summit for Democracy, held by United States President Joe Biden, on 11 December. He stated that “the rules-based order that has served us so well for so long … is under threat from growing autocracy in so many countries around the world, from rapid military modernisation, the undermining of international law, from disinformation, foreign interference and malicious cyber threats.” Morrison urged fellow attendees at the Summit to “work together to bolster and defend our democracies [and] maintain our sovereignty, and support others to make decisions in their own sovereign interest.”

On 8 December, Morrison and Papua New Guinean President James Marape virtually held the third Papua New Guinea-Australia Annual Leaders’ Dialogue. The leaders recognised the importance of the bilateral relationship and reflected on their shared efforts to combat the health and economic fallout from COVID-19. They reflected on the “enormous value” of preserving Papua New Guinea’s forests, including in response to climate change, and agreed that Australia would provide additional support for the nation’s forestry sector. Morrison and Marape committed to continuing to work together “to respond to the shared challenges of the Pacific family”.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne attended the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting in the United Kingdom from 11-12 December. She noted that the meeting “will address critical issues including promoting global democratic values and open societies, gender equality, equitable vaccine access, and prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific.”

On 12 December, Payne, alongside her Japanese and American counterparts, announced the three nations’ commitment to improving internet connectivity to Micronesia, Kiribati and Nauru, by providing funding to build a new undersea cable. The joint statement referred to the investment as representing “an enduring partnership to deliver practical and meaningful solutions at a time of unprecedented economic and strategic challenges in our region”, and a collaboration that “builds on the strong foundations of trilateral collaboration between Australia, Japan and the United States in the Indo-Pacific.” The statement follows an earlier announcement that the three nations would provide support for Palau’s undersea cable.

Payne issued a joint statement with Minister for International Development Zed Seselja on 14 December revealing additional support to boost Fiji’s economic recovery. The $85 million financial package is “an investment in Fiji’s future and reflects Australia and Fiji’s shared commitment to economic resilience, health security and stability in our region.” Payne noted that “Australia is pleased to be supporting our close friend and neighbour, Fiji, as the country continues its economic recovery.” Seselja stated that “Australia and Fiji will always stand together as vuvale (family).”

On 10 December, Payne acknowledged Human Rights Day on the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. She referred to the day as an “important reminder of this milestone” and reflected on Australia’s role as one of the eight drafters of the Declaration. Payne stated that “as an international community, our goal must be to secure the human rights of all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion or socio-economic status.” She noted Australia’s deep concern at “instances around the world of arbitrary detention, violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities, political opponents, human rights advocates and journalists.”

Minister for Trade Dan Tehan noted on 15 December that the Australian Government “welcomes” the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) decision on India’s price support for sugarcane and export subsidies for sugar. The dispute resolution process was initiated by Australia, Brazil and Guatemala in 2019 and ultimately ruled in their favour. Tehan stated that “Australia is committed to working with WTO Members to progress agricultural reform which opens markets and reduces global distortions.”

On 15 December, Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews announced her upcoming visit to the United States, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Andrews stated that the trip would “strengthen Australia’s ties with these close partners and further progress our cooperation on strategic issues of shared interest”. She will meet with senior officials across all three nations and co-Chair the 8th Annual Australian-Indonesian Ministerial Council Meeting with her Indonesian counterpart Minister Mahfud.

The Combined Space Operations Initiative Principals Board, comprising of representatives from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, met in Cape Canaveral, Florida, from 8-9 December. The representatives “underscored the importance of developing a shared understanding of the responsible uses of space, discussed opportunities for the interoperability of space systems, and explored ways to enhance collaboration between space operations centres.” They further expressed “strong concerns” about Russia’s debris-generating anti-satellite test last month and “called for all nations to refrain from conducting irresponsible and dangerous destructive testing.”

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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