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22 July: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

22 Jul 2022
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Albanese and Bainimarama launch the Maritime Essential Services Centre in Fiji, 1 million Foot and Mouth Disease vaccine doses provided to Indonesia, Marles meets with Lloyd J. Austin in Washington, and more.

On 14 July, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with his Fijian counterpart Josaia V. Bainimarama in Suva following the Pacific Islands Forum, and announced the launch of the $83 million Maritime Essential Services Centre (MESC) in Lami, Fiji. The MESC will house the Republic of Fiji Navy Headquarters, Suva Radio Coastal Station, Fiji Maritime Surveillance Coordination Centre, and Fiji Hydrographic Office. Albanese stated that “Australia is helping to build a stronger Pacific family and I am proud to partner with Fiji in the next steps of our Vuvale Partnership.” He further noted that “consistent with [Australia’s] commitment to addressing climate change, these essential services will be housed in an environmentally sustainable facility designed to withstand natural disasters.”

In his capacity as Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Richard Marles issued a statement on 17 July acknowledging the eighth anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. Marles stated that “since 2018, Australia has maintained that the Russian Federation is responsible under international law for the downing of Flight MH17” and that “Australia and the Netherlands are committed to our pursuit of accountability through our dispute against the Russian Federation in the International Civil Aviation Organization.” He further noted that “Australia condemns Russia’s unilateral, illegal, and immoral aggression against the people of Ukraine. It is a painful reminder of the tragic circumstances surrounding the downing of Flight MH17.”

On 14 July, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong announced that Australia will provide $1.5 million to support Indonesia’s response to the recent outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). The funding will provide at least 1 million FMD doses for Indonesia’s vaccination program and follows a formal request for assistance from the Indonesian Government. Wong stated that “safeguarding the biosecurity of our region is a shared concern for Australia and Indonesia – this was something confirmed during the recent Indonesia-Australia Annual Leaders’ Meeting.” She further noted that the provision of the vaccine doses “underscores Australia’s commitment to supporting Indonesia’s response to the outbreak.”

Wong, alongside Minister for Trade Don Farrell, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy, and Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland, issued a joint statement on 14 July noting that Telstra has finalised its acquisition of Digicel Pacific. The Ministers stated that the Australian Government “welcomes” the announcement, noting that Digicel Pacific “is the leading mobile telecommunications and network services provider in the Pacific and plays a vital role in the economic development of the Pacific region.” They further noted that the Government is providing USD 1.33 billion in a financing package, through Export Finance Australia, to support Telstra’s acquisition. Wong stated that “the Australian Government’s support for this transaction reflects our commitment to help build a stronger Pacific family through investment in high-quality infrastructure.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued a media release noting that they had hosted a delegation from the Republic of Korea for the inaugural Space Policy Dialogue between Australia and the Republic of Korea in Canberra on 15 July. First Assistant Secretary of DFAT’s Security Division, Ciara Spencer, met with the Korean delegation, “to discuss approaches to and policies on multilateral space cooperation, space security, and the commercial space sector.” The Dialogue was an outcome of the Australia-Republic of Korea Foreign and Defence Ministers’ 2+2 meeting in September 2021.

On 14 July, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles met with his United States counterpart Lloyd J. Austin III at the Pentagon. Both leaders “reaffirmed the importance of the Australia-United States Alliance and their shared resolve to preserve the rules based global order that underpins our security and prosperity.” Marles stated that “the Alliance is founded on an enduring friendship, common vision, and shared experience over seven decades.” During the meeting, the leaders “acknowledged the critical importance of enhancing their diplomatic, economic and security investments in the Indo-Pacific, including addressing the threat of climate change.” They also reaffirmed their commitment to the AUKUS trilateral partnership.

While in the United States, Marles also addressed the Australian American Leadership Dialogue on 14 July. In his speech, he acknowledged the 30th anniversary of the Dialogue and referred to it as “fundamentally important in terms of the way in which it gives expression to the Australian-American alliance.” Marles recalled former Prime Minister John Curtin’s speech in 1941 where he noted that “Australia looks to America”, and referred to this as “a call that was not made by virtue of a set of existing personal relationships … It was much more a call made out of necessity.” He further stated that “both our countries face the most complex set of strategic circumstances that we’ve had since the end of the Second World War. The global rules-based order that started to be built at Bretton Woods, by America, by Australia, by so many other countries, is under pressure.” Marles referred to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea as examples of this. He reaffirmed the importance of AUKUS as the “next chapter” of the alliance and commended former Minister for Defence Peter Dutton “for the role that he has played” in its establishment. Finally, Marles stated that “as we look ahead to a future which is fraught with danger, which has difficulties ahead, we can nevertheless do so with a sense of optimism, knowing that, whatever challenge is presented to our two countries, we can lead together and with success.”

Marles opened the new Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) Office in Washington, D.C. on 14 July, which he described as a “tremendous honour”. He reflected on his personal connection with ASPI, saying it was “fundamentally important to me in giving me the education that I needed around strategic policy [and] defence” and that the Institute serves to “not only inform the Australian public, but those of us in government who seek to play a role in this space.” Marles noted that “it makes complete sense that ASPI would open its first overseas office right here [in Washington]”, and that “it’s not just about sucking in information, it’s about inserting into the stream of thought here, how we see the world and the challenges that Australia faces and giving an Australian flavour to the nature of the discussion which is so important that takes place in this town.” He also acknowledged his predecessor and Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, who made the decision to open the office in Washington, stating that “it’s to his credit that this day is happening, and he is worthy of praise in this moment.”

On 20 July, Marles virtually addressed the Australian Defence Science, Technology and Research Summit (ADSTAR) where he referred to the Government’s commitment “to the importance of defence science and supporting innovation.” Marles noted Labor’s election promise to establish the Australian Strategic Research Agency, which “will undertake pivotal research in breakthrough technologies for defence and national security.” He also reiterated his line at the Australian American Leadership Dialogue, that “Australia faces the most complex set of strategic circumstances that we’ve seen since the end of the Second World War” and that, consequentially “the work of everyone at this Summit has never been more important.” He reaffirmed the Government’s commitment “to backing Australian defence science researchers … through partnerships, grants and support.”

Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil and Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland issued a joint statement on 15 July following bilateral Ministerial meetings in Melbourne and Sydney with their Japanese counterparts to establish the Australia-Japan Policy Dialogue on Telecommunications Resilience. Their discussions included “opportunities to harness critical and emerging technologies and build resilient and secure telecommunications networks”, as well as “reaffirm[ing] cooperation and deepen[ing] engagement on telecommunications resilience and security.” O’Neil stated that “Japan and Australia are united in our vision of a prosperous and secure Indo-Pacific. This is demonstrated by our commitment, today, to deeper cooperation on secure and resilient telecommunications networks” and that she “look[s] forward to working together, harnessing opportunities generated by critical and emerging technologies, bilaterally and through the Quad.”

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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