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21 October 2022: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

21 Oct 2022
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Albanese hosts Singaporean PM Lee Hsien Loong in Canberra and announces the Green Economy Agreement, Wong affirms the Government’s decision to reverse the Morrison Government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Australia-NZ Defence Ministers’ Meeting, and more.

On 18 October, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Singaporean counterpart, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met for the 7th Australia-Singapore Annual Leaders’ Meeting in Canberra. The leaders “welcomed the strength and depth of bilateral relations between the two countries, anchored in shared strategic and economic interests.” They reaffirmed the Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) as “a broad, constructive and forward-looking framework” and endorsed “Green Economy” as the “6th pillar of the CSP”. Moreover, they welcomed the signing of the Green Economy Agreement (GEA), which “supports [the] two economies’ transition to net-zero emissions whilst promoting trade and investment in environmental goods and services.” Moreover, they acknowledged that the GEA “is an ambitious and first-of-its kind agreement that advances our trade, economic, investment and climate change objectives.” They noted that the GEA will “serve as a pathfinder and model for international cooperation on trade and transition to net-zero economies.” The Prime Ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to the rules-based multilateral trading system, acknowledged the depth of their longstanding defence and security cooperation, discussed advancing cybersecurity cooperation, and “exchanged assessments on the interconnected regional and global challenges threatening the international rules-based order”, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and their “shared commitment to maintain and promote security and stability in the South China Sea.”

Following the Australia-Singapore Annual Leaders’ Meeting and the signing of the GEA, Albanese and Minister for Trade Don Farrell jointly announced an initial investment of $19.6 million over four years for “new cooperation under the GEA that will support job creation at home and strengthen supply chains, trade and market opportunities.” The investment will facilitate trade and investment in “green goods and services, including by identifying and reducing non-tariff barriers”, will promote “collaboration between Australian and Singaporean businesses to build capability in new green growth sectors”, and will foster “harmonisation and collaboration on standards and conformance to improve the interoperability of markets.” Albanese and Farrell stated that the GEA “demonstrates the Australian Government’s ambition to deliver on its trade diversification agenda, strengthen regional energy security, seize the opportunities of energy transformation and support global climate action.” Albanese further stated that the GEA “extends well beyond a simple bilateral trade agreement” and that it will “support both Australia and Singapore, and partners in our region to seize the economic opportunities of the global transition to net zero.”

On 19 October, Albanese announced that he will welcome the Prime Minister of Japan, Kishida Fumio, to Australia on 22 October as a Guest of Government. The leaders will meet in Perth for the Annual Australia-Japan Leaders’ Meeting, and this will be the first visit to Australia by a Japanese Prime Minister since 2018. The leaders “will look to strengthen the defence and security partnership”, and “will consider next steps to implement the Reciprocal Access Agreement which will enhance the ability of defence forces to operate and exercise together.” They will also “discuss ways to address the climate crisis and support our region to transition to net zero [including] capturing opportunities to scale up investment in clean energy technologies and supply chains.” Albanese noted that “Western Australia will provide the perfect backdrop for [Prime Minister Kishida’s] visit”, as the state “has played an important role [in] supporting Japan’s energy security and will be vital to both countries’ plans for clean energy transition.” He further stated that “as Australia seeks to become a clean energy superpower, we will remain a steady and reliable supplier of energy to Japan including for new energy sources like hydrogen.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong issued a statement on 18 October, noting that the Government has reversed the Morrison Government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. She stated that, in doing so, the Government “has reaffirmed Australia’s previous and longstanding position that Jerusalem is a final status issue that should be resolved as part of any peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian people.” Wong noted that “Australia’s embassy has always been, and remains, in Tel Aviv” and that “Australia is committed to a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist, in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders.” She further stated that she “regret[s] that Mr Morrison’s decision to play politics resulted in Australia’s shifting position, and the distress these shifts have caused to many people in the Australian community who care deeply about this issue.”

On 18 October, Wong issued a statement announcing the appointment of Steve Bracks, former Labor Premier of Victoria, as Australia’s Special Representative for the Greater Sunrise Project in Timor-Leste, “as part of the Australian Government’s commitment to the mutually beneficial and commercially viable development of the Greater Sunrise gas fields.” She stated that “Grater Sunrise is critical to Timor-Leste’s economic development and resilience” and that “the Australian Government wants to see the development of Greater Sunrise in a commercially viable way that supports the economic development of Timor-Leste and maximises the benefits to all parties, consistent with the 2018 Maritime Boundary Treaty.” In the role, Bracks will “represent the Australian Government and consult with the Government of Timor-Leste and other key stakeholders, including the Sunrise Joint Venture.”

Wong will travel to Cook Islands, Niue and French Polynesia this week, “to further strengthen Australia’s deep ties with our Pacific partners, and demonstrate the Albanese Government’s commitment to the Pacific as a whole.” In Cook Islands, she will meet with Prime Minister Mark Brown to “discuss ways to deepen bilateral cooperation.” In Niue, she will meet Premier Dalton Tagelagi on Niue’s Constitution Day, and noted that “Australia recognises and respects the special constitutional arrangement that Niue has with New Zealand.” In French Polynesia, Wong will meet with the French High Commissioner to French Polynesia, Eric Spitz, and President of French Polynesia, Edouard Fritch. She stated that “Australia is committed to working closely with France and French Polynesia to strengthen our partnerships, and to build a peaceful, prosperous and resilient Pacific.”

On 14 October, Wong, alongside Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy, announced that “public submissions are invited to inform the design of Australia’s new international development policy”. The Ministers noted that the new policy will “set the long-term direction for Australia’s Official Development Assistance, which is being increased by more than $1 billion over four years” and that it “will deliver on Australia’s commitment to work in partnership with our neighbours to achieve a peaceful, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific.” Public submissions are open until 30 November, and the terms of referencehave also been made publicly available.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles hosted New Zealand Minister for Defence Peeni Henare in Geelong for the annual Australia-New Zealand Defence Ministers’ Meeting on 17 October. The Ministers reaffirmed the strength of the bilateral defence alliance “in an increasingly complex security environment” and they “exchanged perspectives on regional security issues and reiterated their shard ambition for a safe, stable and prosperous Pacific.” Moreover, they “agreed to a refreshed bilateral Australia-New Zealand Defence Dialogue Architecture” to “deliver a future-focussed and agile dialogue structure that is better able to respond to the increasingly complex challenges of our strategic environment.” They also agreed to “explore a range of initiatives”, including “closer coordination of [their] respective defence reviews”, “increasing personnel exchanges, postings and secondments”, “strengthening the joint operational capabilities of [their] forces”, and “developing complementary and inclusive efforts and protocols with the region to enhance coordination on humanitarian assistance and disaster response.”

Marles visited Tonga and Fiji from 17 to 21 October. In Tonga, he participated in the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting, “the premier forum for Pacific Defence Ministers to discuss emerging and existing threats, key policy developments and collective responses to regional security challenges.” In Fiji, Marles met with his Fijian counterpart, Inia Seruiratu, for the annual Defence Ministers’ Meeting, reaffirming the “importance and increasing strength of the Vuvale partnership between the two countries.”

On 13 October, Minister for Trade Don Farrell met with his counterpart from the Republic of Korea (ROK), Ahn Dukgeun, for the inaugural Australia-ROK Trade Ministers’ Meeting under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Farrell noted that the nations “are longstanding and natural partners” and that the bilateral relationship “is underpinned by a shared vision for an open, prosperous and resilient Indo-Pacific.” The Ministers discussed “the many opportunities for future cooperation, including securing critical minerals supply chains, expanding high-quality agricultural exports, and collaborating in new fields like biotechnology, artificial intelligence and robotics.” They also agreed that the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement is “critically important in helping Australian and Korean businesses expand and compete globally, and that open markets play a positive role in enhancing our countries’ energy and food security.” Farrell noted that the discussion “made clear that there is also incredible potential for our countries to cooperate to develop the technologies, like hydrogen, that will accelerate the transition of our economies to net zero emissions by 2050.”

Assistant Minister for Trade Tim Ayres travelled to Vietnam this week for the OECD Ministerial Forum, as well as to “lead an Australian business delegation to unlock new trade and investment opportunities.” He noted that Australia’s relationship with Vietnam “is one of our most important, diverse and dynamic in the region.” During his visit, he met with Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, and Minister of Planning Nguyen Chi Dung, as well as other senior government leaders. He was joined by a business delegation “led by Australia-Vietnam Business Champions Louise Adams (Chief Operating Officer Aurecon), Rob Gordon (Group Chief Executive Officer SunRice) and Martin Bean CBE (former Vice Chancellor and President RMIT).” During the OECD Ministerial Forum, Ayres joins “ministers from across the OECD and ASEAN to discuss practical measures to improve supply chain resilience and protect against future economic shocks.”

On 18 October, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy announced that the Australian Government “is supporting Fiji’s economic recovery and climate resilience with a $72 million financing package, which is Australia’s first sovereign loan to Fiji.” The package will be provided through the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific and includes a grant of $14.7 million. It will support “the renewal of more than 1.5 million square metres of road surface and the upgrading of nine key bridges throughout Fiji, to ensure road infrastructure is climate resilient.” Conroy noted that the package “refinances contracts under the Fiji Transport Infrastructure Restoration Project, providing the Fijian Government with greater flexibility, with repayments not required during a three-year grace period.” It is linked to an “agreed set of outcome indicators, enabling funds to be disb[u]rsed as key milestones are achieved.”

Conroy addressed the CSIS Global Development Forum on 13 October in Washington DC, where he discussed how “Australia and its Pacific partners are approaching the immense challenges and opportunities before us,” including climate change, COVID-19, and strategic contest. He endorsed the “development of the multi-dimensional vulnerability index through the UN High Level Panel”, to ensure Pacific nations can access development finance and concessional funding and to “recognise the vulnerabilities and unlock access to important finance sources to chart the course out of COVID.” He noted that “while serious disruptions face us, Australia looks forward to the view that our Pacific family has the agency to shape our region.”

On 16 October, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts announced his visit to Singapore this week to represent the Australian Government at Singapore International Cyber Week, joined by Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology, Dr Tobias Feakin. Watts noted that he will use the opportunity to deepen Australia’s engagement on cyber resilience with Singapore and with private industry, academia and members of the international community.” Watts addressed the Cyber Agency of Singapore on 18 October, “discussing how we can work together to tackle the shared threat of ransomware.” He referred to a ransomware attack targeting the Papua New Guinean Department of Finance’s Integrated Financial Management System one year earlier, noting that “PNG was able to respond well to this incident, but the potential impact of ransomware attacks on developing countries is significant.” Watts noted that “as Australia ramps up our efforts to combat the threat of ransomware to our own nation, we’ll work hard to be a trusted partner for countries in our region confronting the same threats. It’s in our economic interest to do so.”

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.

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