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20 August: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

20 Aug 2021
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: statements on Afghanistan, Pfizer arriving from Poland, Cheng Lei, and more.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, alongside Minister for Defence Peter Dutton and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, issued a media statement on 16 August about Afghanistan. The Ministers stated that the “situation on the ground in Kabul, as in the rest of Afghanistan, is evolving rapidly.” They noted that the Australian Government’s priority is the safety of the 130 Australian citizens in the country.Moreover, the Ministers called on the Taliban to cease all violence against civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law. Australia was also signatory to a joint statement with 63 other nations about Afghanistan, which stated that “the Afghan people deserve to live in safety, security and dignity. We in the international community stand ready to assist them.”

On 17 August, Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke announced that “no Afghan visa holder currently in Australia will be asked to return to Afghanistan while the security situation there remains dire.” Hawke further noted that Afghan citizens who are currently in Australia on temporary visas “will be supported by the Australian Government.”

Hawke further noted on 18 August that the Australian Government has allocated an initial 3,000 humanitarian places to Afghan nationals. He stated that “these 3,000 humanitarian places come on top of the 8,500 Afghans Australia has already successfully resettled since 2013 via our existing humanitarian program. The Government anticipates that this initial allocation will increase further over the course of this year.”

On 15 August, Morrison and Payne announced that one million additional doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine had been secured for Australia from Poland. Morrison said that he wanted to “personally thank Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki [of Poland] and his government for their generous support of Australia’s COVID-19 response during this challenging time.” Payne noted that Australian diplomats are “working hard to identify opportunities to secure additional vaccine doses.”

On 13 August, Payne issued a statement on Australian journalist Cheng Lei’s detention in China. Payne acknowledged that Cheng Lei has been detained for one year and that the Australian Government “remains seriously concerned about [her] detention and welfare and has regularly raised these issues at senior levels.” Moreover, Payne noted that “there remains a lack of transparency about the reasons for Ms Cheng’s detention.” The Australian Government is continuing to provide consular assistance to Ms Cheng and her family.

Senior officials from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the United States Department of State met by videoconference on 12 August. Topics discussed at the Quad Senior Officials’ Meeting included access to vaccines in the Indo-Pacific, concerns about the crisis in Myanmar, cooperation on climate change, and reiterated their support for the principles of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

On 12 August, the Department of Defence announced that the Australian Defence Force and the United States Armed Forces will partner to develop a new precision missile capability “to further interoperability and modernise both militaries.” The collaboration has been cemented by a recent Memorandum of Understanding between the Australian Army and the United States Military which “[commits] to increasing the lethality, range and target engagement of the baseline missile in development.”

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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