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24 May 2024: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

24 May 2024
By Dr Adam Bartley

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Marles meets new prime minister of Solomon Islands; Wong in Bangladesh for ministerial meetings; Wong addresses Israel-Palestine issue; Watts off to Vienna for IAEA meeting, and more.

On 21 May, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles travelled to the Solomon Islands to meet withnewly elected Prime Minister, Jeremiah Manele, Deputy Prime Minister Bradley Tovosia, Minister for Finance Manasseh Sogavare and Minister of Police, National Security and Correctional Services Jimson Tanangada.” During an interview, Marles announced an “$18 million Solomon Island dollar contribution to the establishment of a new Border Management System” with the aim of digitizing border management. Later that day, Marles further announced a “$45 million-Australian dollar- contribution to the Naha Birthing Clinic” to help with health infrastructure of this country.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong travelled to Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 22 May to participate in ministerial dialogues with Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dr. Hasan Mahmud. During the trip, the ministers affirmed their bilateral relationship and intention to enhance cooperation, as well as deepen two-way trade and economic ties. Bangladesh is progressing “towards graduation from UN LDC status, with Australia committing to maintain tariff-free, quota-free access to its market to support Bangladesh’s smooth transition.” Wong will also meet with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other members of the Bangladeshi government, and travel to Cox’s Bazar to “see how Australia’s humanitarian assistance is delivering practical support to displaced Rohingya and Bangladeshi host communities.” Wong will then travel to Singapore, where she will hold meetings with Senior Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. The trip to Singapore will provide “an opportunity to discuss trade and investment, green economy opportunities, defence and security, and our close cooperation on shared regional challenges.”

Also on 22 May, Wong addressed questions on the considerations by Spain, Norway, and Ireland to formally recognise Palestine as a state. Australia’s position continutes to be support for a two-state solution, reform of the Palestinian Authority, and movement towards peace from both sides. Meanwhile, Wong addressed comments on the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) consideration of issuing arrest warrants for senior leaders of the Israel Government and Hamas. Wong remarked that “there is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas,” and further responded that such matters were a matter for the ICC.

In a joint media release with Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell, Wong announced the recipients of the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations grants round for 2023-24. This round, there were 27 grants awarded, supporting “a range of activities designed to strengthen cooperation and enhance engagement between the people of Australia and China.” Some initiatives include supporting industry sectors to build market connections, research and innovation in decarbonisation, skills development for next generation Chinese-Australian leaders, and China literacy programs. Mr Gary Cowan has also been announced “as Chief Executive Officer of the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations. Mr Cowan is a senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) He has served overseas as Australia’s Representative in Taipei from 2018 to 2021, with previous postings to Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo.”

Also on the 20 May, Wong and Farrell announced the launching of a new “Centre for Australia-India Relations headquarters in Parramatta, along with a series of initiatives to further strengthen Australia’s links with India.” The new headquarters will focus on “government, business, academia, the cultural sector and Indian-Australian communities to drive new partnership opportunities between our countries,” and is supported by the NSW and Federal government. “These initiatives are on top of additional $14.3m in funding provided in last week’s budget, to expand the Australia India Business Exchange.” Meanwhile, “Austrade will lead new business missions to India across a range of sectors – including agrifood, education, technology, and energy and resources like critical minerals. The expanded program also involves pilot business missions to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to help grow our trade across the South Asia.”

On 22 May, Minister for International Development and the Pacific, and Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy addressed questions on the evacuation of Australian in New Caledonia. He remarked that the Australian Government welcomed the decision by French President Emmanuel Macro to travel to the small island country and encouraged all parties to abide by the Noumea Accords and continue discussions. Australia’s official position on New Caledonia’s institutional future is non-committal. 84 Australians were transported home on 21 through RAAF aircraft flights. French aircraft have also aided in the evacuation of Australians since.

Also this week, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts announced he “will travel to Vienna to represent Australia as co-President of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS) 2024.” This year’s meeting will be co-chaired by Australia and Kazakhstan, and “bring together ministers, policy makers, and technical and legal experts to renew and strengthen collective nuclear security commitments.” While in Vienna, Watts will meet with a range of ministers and senior officials attending ICONS, as well as “with IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi to reinforce Australia’s steadfast support for the work of the IAEA in the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear technology, and in verifying States’ compliance with nuclear non-proliferation commitments.”

Dr Adam Bartley is the managing editor for AIIA’s Australian Outlook and weekly columnist for The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs. He is a former Fulbright Scholar and resident fellow at the Elliot School for International Affairs, the George Washington University. Adam also has positions as post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Cyber Security Research and Innovation RMIT University  and as program manager of the AI Trilateral Experts Group. He can be found on Twitter here.

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