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2 December 2022: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

02 Dec 2022
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Albanese meets with Vietnamese President Vuong Dinh Hue; Indian Government completes domestic requirements for implementation of the ECTA; Marles on the ADMM-Plus; and more.

On 30 November, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with the President of Vietnam, Vuong Dinh Hue, during Hue’s visit to Australia as a Guest of the Australian Parliament. The leaders discussed “the vibrant trade, investment, education and defence links between Australia and Vietnam, underpinned by the Strategic Partnership and strong people to people links.” They also discussed “international issues” and “reiterated their commitment to ASEAN centrality and a region which is peaceful, prosperous, stable and in which sovereignty is respected.” Moreover, they reaffirmed that “disputes, including those in the South China Sea, should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.” The leaders further announced their intention to elevate the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, to reflect “the high level of mutual strategic trust and ambition in the relationship”. Albanese noted that “our shared ambition to elevate our formal ties is a reflection of our deepening cooperation on significant issues – economic, climate and strategic. It demonstrates clearly the government’s determination to deepening Australia’s relationship with Southeast Asia.”

Albanese and Minister for Trade Don Farrell issued a joint press release on 30 November stating that the Government “welcomes” confirmation that the Indian Government has “completed its domestic requirements to enable implementation of the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA).” The trade agreement will “deliver new market access opportunities for Australian businesses and consumers from 29 December 2022.” Farrell noted that ECTA “will save Australian exporters around $2 billion a year in tariffs, while consumers and businesses will save around $500 million in tariffs on imports of finished goods.” He referred to ECTA as “a ground-breaking agreement that brings Australia and India’s economies closer together”, while Albanese stated that the ECTA is “the next step in elevating our relationship with India, the world’s fastest growing large economy.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles published an article in The Interpreter on 30 November where he reflected on his attendance at the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (the “ADMM-Plus”) last week. Marles noted that he “walk[ed] away convinced that, with determination and diplomacy, we can prove competition doesn’t have to lead to conflict” and that the “short, but important, visit to Cambodia reinforced to [him] the importance of ASEAN.” He said that during the ADMM-Plus, “global issues echoed throughout the conference centre” and that “many ministers made clear Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was an affront to the rules and norms that are so important.” Moreover, Marles stated that “ASEAN defence ministers highlighted the importance of resolving disputes in the South China Sea by peaceful negotiation rather than by walking down the path of increased militarisation.” Moving forward, Marles flagged that the Government “will be making further announcements in the months ahead”, including the findings of the Defence Strategic Review, and that Australia will “remain open as we pursue advanced capabilities through AUKUS, including by announcing the optimal pathway to acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.”

On 24 November, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy travelled to Vanuatu to attend the Pacific Community (SPC) Ministerial Conference. This SPC Conference is the first in-person one since the COVID-19 pandemic, and Conroy’s visit will be the first by an Australian minister to Vanuatu since its national election. Conroy noted that it is “an important opportunity for the Pacific family to come together and discuss how we can strengthen our development and economic partnerships.” He further stated that “Australia is committed to working together with Vanuatu in the interests of a peaceful, prosperous and resilient Pacific.”

Conroy addressed the Australasian Aid Conference at the Australian National University on 29 November. In his speech, he noted that the Australian Government is designing a new development policy which “will be finalised in the first half of next year.” He also reflected on the increase in Official Development Assistance (ODA) announced in the 2022-23 Budget, and stated that “the Government was determined to lift ODA, because we understand the benefits that our development program can bring—both to us, and to our region.” Conroy noted that “the Government has made clear that we want to drive deeper engagement with our region” and that “at the heart of that will be our development program.” He reflected on the “new areas” that the Government will be focussing on with ODA, including climate change and the establishment of a new Pacific Engagement Visa. Conroy also noted that “the Government wants to harness all our national assets towards strengthening countries and communities in our region and deepening their engagement with Asia.”

On 24 November, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts addressed the IORA Council of Ministers. He noted that “the IORA Outlook on the Indo-Pacific lays out the kind of region that we want to see”, namely “one that adheres to international law, particularly he UN Charter and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.” Watts encouraged delegates to “approve the Outlook and thank India for its leadership on this important body of work.” He further noted that “our collective task of advancing IORA’s objectives has been made more difficult by Russia’s illegal, unilateral and immoral war against the people of Ukraine.” Watts also referred to Australia’s “deep concern” about the “heavy-handed repression of protests and the ongoing persecution of women and girls in Iran, noting its role as IORA’s coordinating country for Women’s Economic Empowerment and a candidate for IORA Vice Chair.” He stated that “Australia calls on the Iranian government to exercise restraint in response to ongoing demonstrations and respect the human rights of women and girls.” Watts concluded by noting that “IORA matters” and that “it is up to all of us to create the kind of environment that we want to live in.”

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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