This week in Australian foreign affairs: Albanese attends the G20 and ASEAN-Australia Summit; Wong delivers Whitlam Oration; Conroy on COP27; and more.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met Chinese President Xi Jinping in the margins of the G20 Summit Meeting on 15 November. Albanese referred to the meeting as “another important step towards the stabilisation of the Australia-China relationship” and that “it was valuable to exchange views on challenges to international peace and security, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” The leaders also discussed “bilateral, trade, consular and human rights issues” and noted that they “looked forward to the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations in December.” Albanese “reaffirmed the Australian Government’s view that it is in the interests of both sides to continue on the path of stabilising and developing our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” and that “we are always going to be better off when we talk to each other, calmly and directly.” Moreover, Albanese stated that “there are many steps yet to take” and that “we will cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, and engage in our national interest.”
On 15 November, Albanese met with United States President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. In a joint statement, the leaders “reaffirmed [their] commitment to work together with Indo-Pacific partners to meet their needs for high-quality, sustainable infrastructure.” That same day at the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment Event at the G20 Summit, the leaders announced that the United States International Development Finance Corporation and Japan Bank for International Cooperation will “subject to final approvals, provide USD 50 million each in credit guarantees” for Export Finance Australia’s financing package to support Telstra’s acquisition of Digicel Pacific. The leaders stated that “our support to this project builds on our shared commitment to address the infrastructure needs of the region through the Trilateral Infrastructure Partnership” and is ”a practical demonstration of the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment”.
On 16 November, Albanese, alongside the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, held the second Australia-EU Leaders’ Meeting in the margins of the G20 Summit. In a joint media release, the leaders “reaffirmed their strong commitment to their shared values, in particular democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and a rules-based multilateral order.” They also “committed to working together to advance human rights and gender equality globally”, and “acknowledged efforts to emerge from the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and be better prepared for future pandemic threats.” The leaders “condemned in the strongest possible terms Russia’s unprovoked, illegal and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine”, “emphasised their shared commitment to taking urgent and ambitious action to address climate change”, and “committed to enhanc[ing] their cooperation in response to growing challenges in the Indo-Pacific.” They further agreed to “prioritise the conclusion of an ambitious and comprehensive trade agreement that generates new, commercially meaningful market access opportunities across all goods, services, investment and procurement.”
Albanese addressed the second annual ASEAN-Australia Summit on 12 November in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He stated that “Australia is proud to be ASEAN’s oldest Dialogue Partner” and that he seeks to “bring a renewed vision for what we can achieve together for our shared region.” Albanese noted that his Government “is committed to deepening Australia’s engagement with Southeast Asia, which is why my first bilateral overseas visit as Prime Minister was to Indonesia.” He reaffirmed that “Australia remains committed to a rules-based order with ASEAN at the centre” and that Australia “welcomes ASEAN Leaders’ in-principle agreement to admit Timor-Leste to be the eleventh member of ASEAN.” While at the summit, Albanese also proposed to ASEAN leaders that Australia host a “Commemorative Summit” in 2024, to “mark the 50thanniversary of Australia’s dialogue partnership with ASEAN.” Albanese also announced the appointment of Nicholas Moore, former Macquarie Group CEO, to the position of Special Envoy for Southeast Asia. Moore will “lead the Government’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040”, which will “set out a pathway to strengthen Australia’s economic engagement with Southeast Asia, map current and emerging trade and investment opportunities and provide a practical roadmap to bolster two-way trade and grow Australian investment.”
On 12 November, while at the ASEAN-Australia Summit, Albanese and his Laos counterpart Phankham Viphavanh jointly announced their intention to elevate the bilateral relationship between Australia and Laos to a Comprehensive Partnership. The leaders also “discussed developments in trade and investment, a shared commitment to a stable, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region and appreciation for Laos’ role as our ASEAN Country Coordinator.” Albanese stated that the announcement “is a sign of the growing substance of our relationship and our commitment to expanding and strengthening cooperation.”
Albanese announced on 13 November that Australia is contributing $50 million as a founding donor to the Pandemic Fund, a new global Financial Intermediary Fund to improve future pandemic prevention, preparedness and response hosted by the World Bank. The Fund is “an historic agreement designed to improve preparedness capabilities [and] to allow swifter and more coordinated responses to future pandemic threats.” Albanese stated that “there is a clear consensus that the world needs to be better prepared to respond to future events – shared global finance is a big part of that” and that he welcomed “the Indonesia G20 presidency’s leadership in establishing the Pandemic Fund and look forward to shaping future pandemic plans.”
On 13 November, Albanese joined his ASEAN and New Zealand counterparts to announce the substantial conclusion of negotiations to upgrade the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement. He noted that “once implemented, the upgrade will strengthen and improve the trade agreement to ensure it is fit for the future for businesses and trade in the region” and that “it will provide a stronger foundation for Australian businesses to expand their economic engagement with Southeast Asia.”
On 13 November, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong delivered the Whitlam Oration, where she opened with a commitment “to placing the perspectives of First Nations people – this land’s first diplomats – at the heart of Australia’s diplomacy.” Wong continued, stating that “when Australians look out to the world, we can see ourselves reflected in it. Equally, the world can see itself reflected in Australia. This is an asset – an element of our national power – that few countries can match.” She noted that “if Australia can be effective in our diplomacy, especially in multilateral and mini-lateral grouping, we will have more chance of upholding the international order, maintaining our independence, exercising our agency, and achieving the equilibrium that is the basis of sustainable peace and prosperity.” Wong also reflected on Australia’s bilateral relationships with Papua New Guinea, China, and Japan.
Wong announced $135 million in humanitarian support to Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2022-23 “to assist with the delivery of life-saving food, water and shelter through partner organisations” on 10 November. She noted that the package “will also deliver essential protection, education and health services for those most in need, including women, girls and people with disabilities.” The partner organisations chosen “have proven capacity to deliver neutral and independent humanitarian assistance and reach those most in need” and have been “carefully chosen to ensure that Australia’s assistance does not directly benefit or legitimise the military regime in Myanmar.”
On 13 November, Wong addressed the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations noting that “Australia will continue to work with our partners to build a region that is peaceful, stable and prosperous, and where sovereignty is respected.” She noted that Australia “will look for mutual opportunities to cooperate with China, including in clean energy transition and other areas” and that “growing our bilateral relationship need not be in conflict with upholding our national interest, if we both navigate our differences wisely. To this end, we welcome renewed dialogue between our countries and look forward to it continuing.”
Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy announced on 14 November that Australia will provide $5.6 million in investment through the Emerging Markets Impact Investment Fund “to support women and the long-term economic future of Southeast Asia.” Conroy noted that “investing in businesses that empower women and girls is essential to expanding economic growth and promoting social development across our region.” He further stated that “the development needs of our region far exceed what Government donors alone can provide” and that “development finance approaches like the Emerging Markets Impact Investment Fund help create the conditions for private capital to contribute to development goals, benefiting our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific and Australia.”
Conroy also noted on 10 November that “Pacific Island countries have welcomed Australia’s new approach at the UN climate summit COP27” and that “the new Australian Government is listening and engaging with the Pacific on the critical issue of climate change, and playing a positive and constructive role internationally.” He further stated that “for too long the world has talked at the Pacific and not with the Pacific. The new Australian Government is listening and working with Pacific Island countries to elevate their views on the global stage.”
On 14 November, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles addressed the Sydney Institute’s Annual Dinner Lecture, where he referred to the Albanese Government’s approach to statecraft as “sober, responsible, and clear-eyed” and “anchored in a resolve to safeguard our national interest while supporting regional security and stability founded on the global rules based order and international law.” Marles referred to this approach as including “the willingness to stabilise Australia’s relations with China” and that “Australia values a productive relationship with China.” He also discussed Australia’s alliance with the United States and referred to it as a “unique and thriving project” that is “driven not only by our nations’ geopolitical interests, but also by our profound commitment to democracy, open economies, and free societies.” Moreover, Marles flagged that “in March next year” he and Albanese will announce “with the UK and US, the optimal pathway for developing [nuclear powered submarine] capability.”
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts travelled to India and Thailand on 15 November “to strengthen our bilateral and regional engagement” and to “showcase Australia as an attractive destination for investment, work and study.” In India, Watts will “lead a cross-sectoral Australian delegation to the Bengaluru Tech Summit and represent Australia at the 3rd Ministerial Conference on Counter-Terrorism Financing in New Delhi.” In Thailand, he will represent Australia at the 2022 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok, and will sin the Australia-Thailand Strategic Economic Cooperation Agreement with Sansern Samalapa, Thai Vice Minister of Commerce.
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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