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23 December 2022: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

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

This fortnight in Australian foreign affairs: Wong travels to Beijing to meet with Wang Yi, Kevin Rudd appointed to Washington, Japan-Australia 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations, and more.

On 21 December, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong travelled to Beijing “at the invitation of the People’s Republic of China” to meet China’s State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, and to hold the 6th Australia-China Foreign and Strategic Dialogue for the first time since 2018. The meeting coincided with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and China. In her opening remarks at the Dialogue, Wong noted “how pleased [she was] to be here in Beijing, in person, on the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic ties.” She stated that “we believe we can realise even greater potential for our peoples under our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” and that “we can grow our bilateral relationship and uphold both of our national interests, if both countries navigate our differences wisely.” Wong affirmed that “through a more stable relationship between Australia and China, we too can help ensure our people, our region and the world can enjoy peace and security.” She thanked State Councilor Wang Yi for his “personal contribution to the stabilisation of the relationship between our two countries this year” and “congratulate[d] [him] again on [his] appointment to the Politburo.”

The Joint Outcomes Statement following the Dialogue noted that “the two sides reiterated the importance of a stable, constructive relationship to both sides, the region and the world” and “agreed to a relationship based on mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit and navigating differences, in keeping with our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.” Moreover, they “agreed to maintain high-level engagement, and to commence or restart dialogue in areas including: bilateral relations, trade and economic issues, consular affairs, climate change, defence, and regional and international issues.” They further “agreed to support people-to-people exchanges, including the 1.5 track High-Level Dialogue, the Australia-China CEO Roundtable and visits by bilateral business delegations.”

On 21 December, in a statement following the Dialogue, Wong noted that it was “a constructive meeting” and “an important step towards a stable relationship with China, under our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.” She stated that she “reiterated [her] view that we can grow our bilateral relationship and uphold our national interests, if both countries navigate our differences wisely.” Wong also “set out [Australia’s] position on issues of importance to Australians, including consular matters, trade blockages, human rights, international security and the global rules and norms that underpin our security and prosperity.” Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Birmingham stated that the Coalition “welcome[d]” the visit and that “engagement between governments is essential to advance areas of mutual interest and to manage differences.” He further noted that “it is welcome that the Albanese Government has continued the former Coalition government’s recognition of the strategic challenges Australia faces and important that they pursue the stabilisation of Australia-China relations while remaining committed to protecting Australia’s national interests.”

Alongside Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Wong issued a media release announcing several new diplomatic appointments on 20 December. They announced the Government’s intention to appoint Dr Kevin Rudd, former Labor Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, as Australia’s next Ambassador to the United States, “in keeping with past practice of appointing experienced former ministers to significant diplomatic posts.” Rudd is expected to commence his posting “in early 2023”. Albanese and Wong noted that “at a time when our region is being reshaped by strategic competition, our interests are well served with a representative of Dr Rudd’s standing” and that he “brings unmatched experience to the role.” Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Birmingham, noted that “in appointing former Prime Minister Rudd, Prime Minister Albanese has personally chosen a friend and confidante, a former parliamentary and ministerial colleague, and someone in whom Mr Albanese clearly has faith and confidence” and that “the Coalition looks to Mr Rudd and all of the new appointments to deliver on Australia’s national interests first and foremost.”

Joining Dr Rudd in the United States will be Heather Ridout as Australia’s next Consul-General in New York, the first woman to be appointed to the role. Ridout was formerly the Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group and is currently Director of Sims Ltd and Director of Australian Securities Exchange Limited. Career diplomats have also been appointed to several other postings: Justin Hayhurst as Australia’s next Ambassador to Japan, Sophie Davies as Australia’s next Ambassador to Brazil, Dr Ralph King as Australia’s next Ambassador to Israel, Sonya Koppe as Australia’s next High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, Minoli Perera as Australia’s next Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Richard Rodgers as Australia’s next Ambassador to Croatia, and Phoebe Smith as Australia’s next High Commissioner to the Cook Islands. Albanese also announced on 9 December the appointment of Kerri Hartland as the new Director-General of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS). Hartland previously served as Deputy Director-General of ASIO from 2011 to 2017, and “has continued to work with the national intelligence community as a consultant.” Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton stated that the Coalition “welcomes” Hartland’s appointment and referred to it as “a critical appointment at a critical time.” Moreover, Bronte Moules, a senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has been appointed as Australia’s inaugural Ambassador for Human Rights. In addition, Stephanie Copus-Campbell is Australia’s first Ambassador for Gender Equality, replacing the outgoing Ambassador for Women and Girls, Christine Clark. Copus-Campbell “has had a distinguished career in international relations and development in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific region” and was most recently appointed by the Papua New Guinean Government as Chair of the Southern Highlands Provincial Health Authority. She has also previously served overseas for AusAID in Port Moresby and Suva.

On 9 December, Wong, alongside Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, as well as their Japanese counterparts Hayashi Yoshimasa and Hamada Yasukazu, respectively, held the Tenth Japan-Australia 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations in Tokyo. The Ministers “reaffirmed that [their] Special Strategic Partnership only grows stronger” and that “Japan and Australia are united by our shared values, including an unwavering commitment to democracy, human rights, free trade and a rules-based international order.” During the Consultations, they focussed on “expanding and deepening bilateral cooperation in line with the [Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation].” They also “underscored the importance of [their] respective alliances and [their] trilateral cooperation with the United States, including through the Trilateral Security Dialogue.” The Ministers welcomed a series of actions including “continuing effective and practical cooperation in the Pacific”; “mutually reinforcing [their] respective enhanced approaches to Southeast Asia”; “progressing commitments to deepen security and defence cooperation, and build greater interoperability”; and elevating defence equipment, science and technology and industry cooperation, in various ways.” While in Japan, Marles also addressed the Sasakawa Peace Foundation on 9 December, where he reflected that this was his second visit to Tokyo in six months and his third meeting with his counterpart Minister Hamada, and stated that “this tempo is no accident” and “reflects the priority Australia places – and [he places] personally – on our relationship with Japan.” He discussed the importance of the Reciprocal Access Agreement and the updated Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation, both signed this year, and noted that “these two agreements now give Japan and Australia the bilateral architecture to ensure our defence and security cooperation is commensurate with our strategic alignment.” Marles discussed AUKUS and noted that it is “a capability and technology partnership” which “we hope will form part of a broader network Australia seeks to build, in which Japan is central.” He stated that his intent “is to grow defence industry integration with Japan: bilaterally, through our trilateral mechanisms with the United States, and, when ready, via our advanced capabilities work in AUKUS as well.” He referred to Australia’s relationship as “foundational” and “becoming indispensable”, and that “now we are poised to build the Japan-Australia relationship as a powerful foce in its own right.”

Wong and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy, as well as their Shadow counterparts Simon Birmingham and Michael McCormack, travelled to Vanuatu, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and Palau on 11 December. The trip is the first bipartisan visit to Pacific Island countries since 2019, and the Ministers and Shadow Ministers noted that “as a member of the Pacific family, Australia’s commitment to working with our Pacific partners to achieve our shared aspirations and address our shared challenges in bipartisan.” The group met with Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau, FSM President David W. Panuelo and Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr., and discussed “their nations’ development objectives, the existential threat of climate change, and key regional security issues.” Wong stated that she was “pleased [they] are delivering on the Albanese Government’s promise to reinstate bipartisan parliamentary delegation visits, demonstrating Australia’s enduring commitment to strengthening our Pacific partnerships and addressing regional challenges.” During the visit to Vanuatu, Australia and Vanuatu signed a Bilateral Security Agreement, which “recognises that our security cooperation must continue to adapt, including to better address the implications of climate change, to help manage the human security effects of COVID-19, and to meet shared challenges across the full scope of the 2018 Boe Declaration on Regional Security.” Wong noted that “Australia and Vanuatu enjoy a deep security partnership developed through decades of practical cooperation” and that the Agreement “will formalise our partnership across the full suite of our shared security interests and make a valuable contribution to the security of the Pacific family.” Birmingham and McCormack welcomed the signing of the Agreement and stated that they were “both honoured to be present in Port Vila [that day] for the signing of [the] historic treaty.”

On 10 December, Wong and Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts announced the imposition of Magnitsky-style sanctions on 13 individuals and two entities “involved in egregious human rights violations and abuses.” Those targeted include “Iran’s Morality Police, the Basij Resistance Force and six Iranian individuals, involved in the violent crackdown on protests following the death of Mahsa ‘Jina’ Amini and the continued oppression of the people of Iran.” In addition, “seven Russian individuals involved in the attempted assassination of former opposition leader Alexei Navalny will also have human rights sanctions imposed on them.” Moreover, Wong and Watts announced further targeted financial sanctions on “three Iranian individuals and one business involved in the supply of drones to Russia for use against Ukraine.”

With her counterparts from the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse, namely the United States, Canada, Chile, Iceland, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, Wong issued a joint media statement on 9 December calling “attention to the extreme violence faced by the courageous Iranian women and girls who are leading sustained nationwide protests over the tragic death of 22-year-old Mahsa (Zhina) Amini.” They condemned Iranian authorities’ “brutal suppression of protestors, including through their use of technology-facilitated gender-based violence.” The Foreign Ministers further invited the international community to join them in “urgently working with technology companies to do everything in their power to enable women and girls’ access to information online, particularly their full and effective use of online platforms” and affirmed that they “stand in solidarity with Iranian women and girls and will continue to look for ways to support women globally in exercising their rights freely and safely, online and offline.”

On 16 December, Wong published a further joint statement alongside the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand on the execution of protestors in Iran. The Ministers noted that “we are watching a dark chapter in Iran’s recent history unfold and we are responding in defence of all of its citizens” and that the “Iranian regime’s brutality against its own people, in particular its women and girls, is unrelenting, and the situation is only worsening.” They stated that they are “appalled by Iran’s execution of protestors since last Thursday,” that “cloaking state-sanctioned killing in opaque legal processes in beyond abhorrent” and that “nothing can justify these shameful actions.” The Ministers reaffirmed that they “oppose the death penalty in all circumstances for all people, everywhere” and called on Iran to “immediately establish a moratorium to halt all executions and to end this brutal and inhumane punishment.”

Wong and her Foreign Minister counterparts from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the High Representative of the European Union, issued a joint media release on 22 December, “strongly condemn[ing] the Taliban’s recent decisions to ban women from universities, to continue to bar girls from secondary schools, and to impose other harsh restrictions on the ability of women and girls in Afghanistan to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms.” They stated that “a stable, economically viable, and peaceful Afghanistan is only attainable and sustainable if all Afghans, including women and girls, can fully, equally, and meaningfully participate in and contribute to the country’s future and development.” The Foreign Ministers urged the Taliban “to immediately abandon the new oppressive measures with respect to university for women and girls and to, without delay, reverse the existing decision to prohibit girls’ access to secondary school.” They stated that “Taliban policies designed to erase women from public life will have consequences for how our countries engage with the Taliban.”

On 7 December, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles and his United Kingdom counterpart Ben Wallace were hosted by United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., to discuss the AUKUS Partnership. The Minister and Secretaries “reviewed the significant progress to date on the trilateral effort to support Australia’s acquisition of conventionally-armed, nuclear powered submarines and the trilateral development of advanced capabilities” and “emphasi[s]ed that AUKUS will make a positive contribution to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region by enhancing deterrence.” They further “expressed their confidence in continued progress ahead of the end of the 18-month consultation period regarding naval nuclear propulsion and announcement on the optimal pathway by the President and Prime Ministers in early 2023.” Moreover, the Minister and Secretaries “committed to continued openness and transparency with international partners on AUKUS” and “further emphasi[s]ed that AUKUS is a strategic partnership focused on enhancing regional stability and safeguarding a free and open Indo-Pacific where conflicts are resolved peacefully and without coercion.” They further confirmed that AUKUS “will complement AUKUS partners’ engagement with existing regional architecture, including ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum.”

Minister for Trade Don Farrell officially opened Australia’s new Embassy in Bern, Switzerland on 9 December. Farrell described it as “a significant milestone in Australia’s relationship with Switzerland and demonstrates the importance we place on engagement with the Swiss Government and people.” He further noted that the Embassy “will work to expand our already strong trade and investment ties with Switzerland, further building our partnerships in business, research and development, and innovation, including increased cooperation on climate action.”

Farrell noted that Australia hosted the first negotiating round of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) in Brisbane from 10 to 15 December. He stated he is “deeply committed to IPEF’s success, given its potential to bring significant benefits to our region” and that “IPEF will complement and build on existing regional architecture with new and innovative solutions to modern trade and economic challenges.” The week’s negotiations focused on IPEF’s four priority areas – “trade, including digital trade; supply chains; the clean energy transition; and the fair economy, including tax and anti-corruption.”

On 17 December, Farrell issued a joint media release alongside German Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action and Vice Chancellor Dr Robert Habeck. The Ministers “exchanged views on hydrogen, critical minerals cooperation and trade matters in Berlin” and noted that they want the the Australia-EU trade agreement “to support strong labour standards, foster innovation, and deepen our cooperation on the shared challenge of transitioning our economies to more sustainable energy and production.” Farrell noted that “Australia and Germany share the same commitment to action on climate change and the transition to net-zero” and that “trade will play an important part in this.” He continued, stating that “I look forward to deepening our cooperation and partnership on hydrogen and critical minerals. Australia’s high-quality and responsibly developed resources can support the EU’s climate ambitions and we want to be a partner of choice.”

Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil addressed the National Press Club on 8 December on the topic of “Home Affairs and the long view”. She discussed “the generational challenge that faces Australia”, “what that challenge means for Home Affairs”, and how the Government is reimagining the work of the Department of Home Affairs “to help Australia take [that challenge] on.” O’Neil reflected on three key shifts that the Department of Home Affairs has faced since its creation five years ago in 2017: “climate change”, “the changing global environment and domestic security”, and “technology”. She then discussed the “three areas where the work of the department needs to evolve to help us confront the challenges ahead”; namely, “cybersecurity, countering foreign interference, and immigration.” Moreover, O’Neil announced that Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts will “lead our international focus” for the new Cyber Security Strategy for Australia. The Strategy will seek to “bring the whole nation into the fight to protect our citizens and our economy”, “strengthen critical infrastructure and government networks”, “build sovereign cybersecurity capabilities”, and “strengthen our international engagement so Australia can be a global cyber-leader.” O’Neil also discussed the Department’s three “new areas of work” – climate change, “national resilience”, and “the resilience of Australia’s democracy” as a national security issue. She contrasted the Albanese Government’s approach to Foreign Affairs with that of the Morrison Government, referring to “the mess that was left for Penny Wong”, including “our global reputation [being] in real trouble, [and] the leader of one of our closest allies to call our then Prime Minister a liar”, as well as “our failure to recognise the climate crisis creat[ing] huge tensions with Pacific neighbours.” She stated that “Australia’s reputation and role in the world has been comprehensively reshaped by our Foreign Minister in just six months.” O’Neil concluded by stating that “the issues that will define the lives of my children and my grandchildren … are how Australian governments manage climate change, navigate our interests with regard to China, and protect Australians in the face of the biggest shift in the global world order since the Second World War.”

On 15 December, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy announced that the Australian and Timor-Leste Governments had signed financial agreements to redevelop the President Nicolau Lobato International Airport in Dili, through the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP). The $97.7 million concessional financing package includes a $57.1 million AIFFP loan and “up to $40.6 million in grants.” It will deliver “critical infrastructure components including improving road access to the airport terminal, lighting, and new rescue firefighting and healthcare facilities.” Moreover, the investment “has been designed to improve the lives of the Timorese people and maximise local jobs, especially for women.” Conroy noted that “the redevelopment package underscores Australia’s commitment to supporting Timor-Leste’s economic recovery, diversification and resilience” and that “as the country’s main international gateway, the airport is key to driving further economic opportunities for Timor-Leste.”

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.