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19 March: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

19 Mar 2021
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: the Quad Leader’s Summit, Cormann’s selection as Secretary-General of the OECD, supporting PNG’s COVID-19 response, and more.

On 12 March, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, comprised of the United States, Japan, India and Australia, held its first-ever leader-level summit. Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated in his opening remarks at the summit, that “[it] is the Indo-Pacific that will now shape the destiny of our world in the 21st Century.” The Quad leaders also issued a joint statement where they noted that they convened “to reaffirm our commitment to quadrilateral cooperation … and are united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific.” The leaders committed to, among other things, joining forces to expand “safe, affordable and effective vaccine production and equitable access,” working to “strengthen the climate actions of all nations,” prioritising the role of international law in the maritime domain, “the complete denuclearisation of North Korea,” and restoring democracy in Myanmar.

Morrison responded to Mathias Cormann’s selection as the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on 13 March, describing it as “the most senior appointment of an Australian candidate to an international body for decades.” He also referred to the OECD as “one of the world’s most important international economic institutions … [and] as the global economy recovers from COVID-19, the OECD’s role in shaping international economic, tax and climate change policy will be more critical than ever.”

On 17 March, Morrison, along with Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, Minister for Health Greg Hunt, Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja, announced that Australia is supporting Papua New Guinea’s COVID-19 response following “a concerning spike in cases” in order to “help save lives and support our closest Pacific neighbour’s health system.” This includes providing 8,000 AstraZeneca vaccines from Australia’s stock, requesting 1 million of Australia’s contracted AstraZeneca vaccine doses to be gifted to Papua New Guinea, deploying a team of three AUSMAT health specialists to Port Moresby, and supplying PPE to the government, including 1 million surgical masks. Moreover, flights between Port Moresby and Cairns were suspended, and passenger capacity on flights between Port Moresby and Brisbane reduced by 25 percent. On 17 March, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong noted that Labor supports the announcement of these measures, following calls earlier in the week for the Morrison government to “speed up and step up the support it is providing to Papua New Guinea.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne issued a joint statement with her New Zealand equivalent, Nanaia Mahuta, on 13 March about the electoral changes in Hong Kong passed on 11 March. The ministers stated that they are “deeply concerned that [these] changes … further undermine rights and freedoms and the high degree of autonomy guaranteed by China to Hong Kong until 2047 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.” The ministers noted that the changes “run contrary to the ultimate aim of a Hong Kong Chief Executive elected through universal suffrage, weaken Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, and erode freedom of speech and association … This is a significant step which will further undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy.” They called on the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to “uphold their commitments, allow genuine avenues for the people of Hong Kong to participate in their governance, and protect the role of the Legislative Council as a forum for the expression of diverse views and scrutiny of government.”

On 12 March, Payne and Seselja announced that the COVAX Facility, a global vaccine sharing initiative, has started rolling out the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia’s Pacific and Southeast Asian neighbours, with Fiji, Cambodia, Indonesia, and the Philippines receiving vaccines so far. Payne and Seselja stated that, “there is no higher priority for Australia and countries in our region than access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.”

Payne issued a statement on 11 March marking ten years since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, and paid the Australian government’s respects to “the Government and people of Japan, the first responders, and those who lost loved ones in this disaster.”

On 15 March, in her capacity as acting defence minister, Payne announced that two Royal Australian Navy ships, HMA Ships Anzac (III) and Sirius are conducting a two-month deployment throughout the Northeast Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. The group “will conduct a number of bilateral and multilateral activities, including participating in Exercise La Perouse, a French-led multilateral maritime exercise in the Northeast Indian Ocean.”

Payne also noted as acting defence minister on 11 March, alongside Deputy Prime Minister of Vanuatu Ishmael Kalsakau, that construction has commenced in Port Vila under the Cook and Tiroas Barracks Redevelopment project “to support the Vanuatu Police Force’s growth and capability development.”

On 15 March, Minister for Trade Dan Tehan announced that Australia will request that the World Trade Organization “establish a dispute settlement panel in the next phase of the process to resolve anti-dumping and countervailing duties imposed on Australian barley by China.” Tehan stated that this next step follows dispute settlement consultations in late January between Australia and China and that, “while there was constructive engagement on both sides, these consultations did not resolve our concerns.”

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese issued a joint statement with Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong on 17 March, calling on the Morrison government to “work with Lebanon and the international community to deliver an independent, impartial and transparent investigation into the explosion at Beirut Port on the 4th of August, 2020.”

Isabella Keith is an undergraduate student at the Australian National University studying Law and Politics, Philosophy and Economics. She is currently an intern at the AIIA National Office.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.