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2 September 2022: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

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

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Wong’s visit to PNG and Timor-Leste; statement on Russia’s obstruction of NPT Review Conference; FMD vaccines arrive in Indonesia; and more.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong announced her upcoming visit to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Timor-Leste on 28 August, “to renew and strengthen Australia’s ties with two of our dearest neighbours.” In PNG, Wong will meet with Prime Minister James Marape and her counterpart Justin Tkatchenko, as well as the two women newly elected to PNG’s Parliament, Rufina Peter and Kessy Sawang. Wong stated that she “look[s] forward to hearing views from PNG’s leaders” and that her priority “will be to ensure we are pursuing our shared ambitions on the basis of trust, open communication and mutual support.” While in Timor-Leste, Wong will meet with President José Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak, as well as her counterpart Adaljiza Magno and Minister for Finance Rui Augusto Gomes. She stated that her “approach will be to listen” and that she “look[s] forward to discussing how Australia can continue to support Timor-Leste’s economic development, ASEAN and WTO bids, and labour mobility priorities.”

On 28 August, Wong issued a media release noting that the Australian Government is “deeply disappointed that the tenth Review Conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) did not reach a consensus outcome, despite the urgency of the international security environment.” She stated that “after four weeks of negotiations in New York, all State Parties except Russia were ready to agree to a meaningful and balanced outcome across the treaty’s three pillars: disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” Wong further said that “Russia has deliberately obstructed processes and “its actions directly challenge core tenets of the NPT.” She reiterated Australia’s “steadfast” support of the NPT “as the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime” and that “we must redouble our efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Wong issued a joint statement alongside her European Union, Canadian, New Zealand, Norwegian, United Kingdom and United States counterparts on 25 August, marking the fifth anniversary of the Myanmar military’s attack against Rohingya. The Foreign Ministers stated that “five years ago, the Myanmar military launched a violent attack on Rohingya communities in Rakhine, killing, raping, and torturing thousands of Rohingya men, women and children and forcing over 700,000 to seek refuge in Bangladesh.” They stated their concern towards the United Nations Fact Finding Mission’s establishment of “consistent patterns of serious human rights violations and abuses.” The Foreign Ministers urged the military regime “to cease its violence against those who have suffered under its rule” and called on the international community “to help ensure justice for Rohingya victims, support host communities, and foster conditions that will allow for the safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable return to their communities.”

On 27 August, Wong issued a statement acknowledging that 2022 marks the 20th anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombings in which 202 people, including 88 Australians, were killed. She announced that the Australian Government will host a memorial service at Parliament House to mark the anniversary on 12 October. In addition, the Australian Consulate General in Bali, Indonesia, will also hold a commemorative ceremony. Wong further noted that “we recognise the ongoing work that Indonesia and Australia do together to counter the scourge of violent extremism, and the strength, courage and cooperation of our peoples.”

Wong and Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt jointly announced on 26 August that the first shipment of one million foot and mouth disease (FMD) vaccine doses supplied by the Australian Government had arrived in Indonesia. The doses “will be distributed by Indonesian authorities to ensure they are delivered to the areas most in need.” Wong further noted that “in the months ahead, Australia will supply a further $4.4 million in FMD vaccines as part of a $10 million biosecurity package recently announced for Indonesia” and that “the successful delivery of these vaccines demonstrates Australia’s commitment to supporting Indonesia’s response to the outbreak and underscores the close collaborative relationship between our two countries.”

On 30 August, Wong issued a statement noting that Australia will provide $2 million in urgent humanitarian assistance in response to devastating floods in Pakistan. Wong stated that the support “will be delivered through the World Food Program to assist the Pakistan Government and its people to respond to immediate humanitarian needs, particularly those disproportionately affected by the floods, including women, children and the vulnerable.”

Officials from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) Ministry of Foreign Affairs held the second Australia-ROK Indo-Pacific Dialogue in Canberra on 25 August. In a media release, DFAT noted that the Dialogue is a “key part of Australia-ROK cooperation to support a peaceful, prosperous, and secure region, respectful of international rules and sovereignty.” Moreover, the Australia-ROK Strategic Partnership was held to be “underpinned by shared values, an extensive trade relationship, deep people-to-people links, and common strategic interests.” During the Dialogue, officials discussed “their respective approaches to the Indo-Pacific and ways to deepen cooperation with regional partners and institutions to advance their shared interests and promote stability and prosperity in the region.”

On 29 August, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts attended Australia-Africa Week in Perth, and delivered the opening address at the Africa Down Under mining conference. Watts noted that his visit “underlines the importance the Australian Government attaches to our relationships with the governments and people of Africa” and that the Government is “committed to advancing our shared interests with Africa.” In his address, he acknowledged that “the Australian government has not always engaged with African countries as deeply or as knowledgeably as we could have” and that “reinvigorating our relationships with African nations is a key focus for me in my role”. Watts announced that he plans to visit West Africa later this year to meet with Ghanian and Nigerian leaders, and to open the 2022 edition of the West Africa Mining Security Conference in Accra.

While in Perth, Watts also discussed Australian foreign policy priorities in a roundtable dialogue at the Perth USAsia Centre on 30 August. In his opening remarks at the Roundtable, he noted the Perth USAsia Centre’s “distinctive contribution to the national debate on foreign policy [which draws on] its unique vantage point … on the shores of the Indian Ocean” and that Western Australia “is our gateway to the ‘Indo’ in ‘Indo-Pacific’”. Watts stated that “like the Pacific Ocean, the future of the Indian Ocean region will be shaped by strategic competition between great powers – India, China and the United States. But Australia doesn’t have to be just a passive bystander as this unfolds.” He outlined Australia’s steps towards “stabilis[ing] the relationship with China [and] build[ing a region that is stable, peaceful and properous”: “a strong, mature alliance with the United States”; “deeper engagement in Southeast Asia and the Pacific”; and “productive and practical cooperation with our Quad partners and all those who share our aspirations for a peaceful region underpinned by international law and robust institutions.”

Watts travelled to Indonesia on 1 September to attend the G20 Digital Economy Ministers’ Meeting in Bali to “discuss connectivity, digital skills and literacy, and cross-border data flows.” He stated that Australia “is committed to Indonesia’s priorities as G20 President, including efforts to leverage digitalisation to assist post pandemic recovery.” While in Indonesia, he will also meet with senior Indonesian officials to “discuss digital policy and regional security” and to “build on the work of the new government to strengthen our relationships across Southeast Asia.” Watts noted that “close cooperation with Indonesia is fundamental to our vision for the region, and builds on our longstanding partnership in many areas of shared interest.”

From 29 August to 1 September, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles visited Germany, the United Kingdom and France. Marles met with “each of his counterpart defence ministers, [as well as] members of the defence and national security communities, think tanks, and industry partners.” He also participated in a roundtable with defence industry in Germany, and visit key shipyards in the United Kingdom. Marles’ visit to France aims to “build on the Albanese Government’s commitment to restore and renew the defence relationship with one of Australia’s oldest and most capable partners.” He stated that the visit “reflects the importance we attach to our European partnerships and reaffirms the Government’s commitment to working together towards shared strategic goals that transcend geography.”

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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