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24 September: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

24 Sep 2021
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: AUKUS, AUSMIN 2021, MIKTA statement on multilateralism, and more.

On 16 September, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, alongside his British and American counterparts Boris Johnson and Joe Biden, announced the establishment of the AUKUS trilateral security partnership between the three nations. The leaders stated that the establishment of AUKUS is “guided by our enduring ideals and shared commitment to the international rules-based order” and that they are “resolv[ing] to deepen diplomatic, security, and defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, including by working with partners, to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.” They announced the first initiative under AUKUS, “a trilateral effort of 18 months … to support Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.”

Morrison noted on 16 September in an address following the AUKUS announcement that “Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capacity … [a]nd we will continue to meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” He referred to the AUKUS partnership as “a partnership that seeks to engage, not to exclude. To contribute, not take. And to enable and empower, not to control or coerce.” In response, Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese stated that he “looks forward to the strengthened cooperation with our close allies” but that “today’s announcement is the single biggest admission of failure on the part of the Morrison-Joyce Government over its $90 billion Future Submarines program.”

On 16 September, Morrison, Payne and Dutton issued a joint media statement which stated that AUKUS “will build on the three nations’ longstanding and ongoing bilateral ties, and will enable the partners to significantly deepen cooperation on a range of emerging security and defence capabilities, which will enhance joint capability and interoperability.” The first initiative under AUKUS is the acquisition by Australia of nuclear-powered submarine technology, which are intended to be built in South Australia. This means that Australia “will no longer proceed with the Attack class conventional submarine program with Naval Group [and the Government of France].” Other initial efforts under AUKUS will focus on “cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities.”

Morrison met with President Biden in New York on 22 September ahead of the first in-person Quad Leaders’ Meeting. Biden stated that “the United States has no closer or more reliable ally than Australia.” Morrison noted that “the United States and Australia have always shared a partnership that is about a world order that favours freedom, and that’s why we’ve always stood together.” He thanked Biden for his “leadership and focus on the Indo-Pacific region”, to which Biden noted that “our partnership is in line with all the other democracies in the world.”

On 22 September, Morrison delivered a joint media statement on 22 September with his counterparts from Mexico, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, and Turkey (‘MIKTA’) reaffirming their “belief in and commitment to open societies, democratic values, and multilateralism.” The leaders stated that the COVID-19 pandemic is “a powerful reminder of the imperative for a strong, responsive and effective multilateral system”. They further noted that MIKTA will “continue efforts to promote and support a multilateral system – with the United Nations at its core – that is effective, open and transparent and accountable to member states.”

Payne and Dutton attended the 31st Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN 2021) with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Washington D.C. on 16 September. In their joint statement, they referred to their “unbreakable” alliance as “an anchor of stability” whose “focus” is the Indo-Pacific. The statement noted that “the United States and Australia will continue to advance peace, security, and prosperity to ensure an open, inclusive, and resilient Indo-Pacific region.” It also stated that “in the face of challenges spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and growing threats to security and stability, our friendship remains steadfast and resolute.”

On 21 September, Payne announced that Australia will invest $25.6 million over four years to the United Nations’ Junior Professional Office Program to assist young Australian professionals in gaining “real world experience at international institutions critical to Australia’s interests”. She noted that “the investment will give Australians a greater presence in global institutions and help ensure that Australia has the international influence we need to protect our national interests, sovereignty and values.”

Dutton issued a statement on 17 September which announced that the Government will fund the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) to establish an office in Washington, D.C. to mark the 70th anniversary of the signing of the ANZUS treaty. ASPI has also recently recognised its 20th anniversary, and Dutton referred to it as providing “independent contestability in policy advice on defence and strategic policy issues.” Dutton further stated that “ASPI is well-respected in Washington for the calibre of its research, particularly on Indo-Pacific security matters, cyber security and on the US-Australia alliance.”

On 22 September, Minister for Trade Dan Tehan addressed the National Press Club on the topic of “Economic statecraft in a challenging time”. Tehan stated that “geostrategic competition is taking place in the economic realm as fiercely as it is in all others.” He noted that “all countries are vulnerable to having trade used against them. The best protection lies in more trade not less; being more open and having even stronger economic partners.” Tehan referred to Australia’s economic statecraft as “principled, proactive and, where necessary, patient … Patience has been essential in our dealings with our largest trading partner, China.”

Tehan issued a joint statement with his New Zealand counterpart Damien O’Connor, following a virtual meeting on 20 September to advance trans-Tasman cooperation under the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER). The Ministers referred to CER as “one of the most comprehensive trade agreements in the world” which “underpins the integration of the New Zealand and Australian economies.” They also reflected on the importance of free movement between the two nations, their commitment to the multilateral rules-based trading system, and the role that the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is playing to manage the impacts of COVID-19.

On 16 September, Tehan noted that Australia has requested that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) establish a dispute settlement panel “to adjudicate anti-dumping duties imposed on Australian wine by China.” Tehan stated that “Australia supports the rules-based trading system” and that this next stage of the WTO dispute resolution process “[follows] consultation between Australia and China.” He further noted that “Australia remains ready to resolve this matter directly through discussions with China.”

Tehan, alongside Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure Barnaby Joyce, announced on 20 September the commitment of $183.65 million to maintain Australia’s sovereign international aviation capacity. The Ministers noted that the additional support “will ensure airlines and airports are ready to respond to increased demand once border restrictions are eased.” Joyce noted that “it’s important that the sector continues operating now, to maintain the flow of exports and imports and bring Australians home from overseas.”

On 20 September, Tehan welcomed Peru becoming the eighth Party to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). He stated that “Peru is a fast-growing, dynamic economy offering Australian exporters a gateway to Latin America and the CPTPP will support trade with Peru growing beyond our existing bilateral agreement.” Tehan also noted that Brunei, Chile and Malaysia “will join the CPTPP once their respective domestic ratification processes are complete.”

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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