This week in Australian foreign affairs: Albanese attends APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting; four new diplomatic postings announced; Wong confirms Professor Sean Turnell has returned safely to Australia; statement on MH17 verdicts; and more.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attended the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting from 17-19 November in Bangkok, Thailand. Albanese “joined others to condemn Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the resulting economic impacts on our region” and “welcomed the meeting’s endorsement of the Bangkok Goals on the Bio-Circular Green Economy.” He also “emphasised the importance of a rules-based, free and open trade and investment environment that will support economic recovery and the strengthening of supply chains.” Moreover, alongside other leaders, Albanese “highlighted the importance of digital confidence in realising the full benefits of the digital economy and committed to work[ing] together across the region to strengthen business and consumer trust in digital transactions.” Albanese noted that a focus of his participation at the Summit was “reiterating Australia’s commitment to sustainable growth, trade and investment – and sharing our perspectives on trade liberalisation” and that he “look[s] forward to closely working with President Biden as the US assumes its position as APEC Chair for 2023.”
In the margins of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, Albanese met with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines on 19 November. The leaders “agreed to strengthen the already warm and deep ties between the two countries by formally elevating the relationship to a Strategic Partnership.” Through the Strategic Partnership, the two countries will “seek to expand existing defence and maritime cooperation, counter-terrorism and law enforcement links, and facilitate deeper cooperation in a range of areas including addressing climate change.” Albanese stated that ““In the Filipino spirit of bayanihan and the Australian tradition of mateship, we have stood by each other in good times and bad” and that “elevating our relationship to a Strategic Partnership will reinforce our focus on strengthening ties between our two countries, and working together to build a region that is resilient and prosperous for all.”
Next week, Albanese will welcome the Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, to Australia. Marin’s visit is the first visit by a Finnish Prime Minister to Australia; she will be accompanied by a business delegation and will also address the Lowy Institute. Albanese noted that “although a world apart geographically, Australia and Finland are united by shared values and a strong desire to uphold the international rules-based order.” He further stated that “Australians and Finns have a mutual appreciation for fostering sustainable growth, investing in clean energy and resilient supply chains and social and political stability.”
On 20 November, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong announced the appointment of four career diplomats to lead Australian overseas posts. Elizabeth Day will be Australia’s new Ambassador to Switzerlandand the first to serve at the new Australian Embassy in Bern. She will also be accredited to Liechtenstein. Current Ambassador to Germany, Philip Green, who has “advanced Australia’s interests in Switzerland and Liechtenstein since 2020 as non-resident Ambassador”, will “remain Australia’s Ambassador to Germany.” The three other appointments are: Rod Hilton as Australia’s new High Commissioner to Solomon Islands; Justin Whyatt as Australia’s new Ambassador to Cambodia; and Anthony Aspden as Australia’s next Consul-General in Guangzhou, China.
Wong confirmed on 18 November that Professor Sean Turnell arrived safely home to Australia, following “more than 21 months of unjust detention in Myanmar.” She further stated that “the Australian Government has worked tirelessly for Professor Turnell’s release, and we will continue to provide whatever consular support he and his family require.” Wong also thanked “all those who have advocated for his release, including regional partners, and especially members of ASEAN” and expressed Australia’s gratitude for the efforts of “Cambodia and Brunei Darussalam, the ASEAN Chairs over the term of his detention, and the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar.” She further noted that “the Australian Government remains deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Myanmar, and we will continue to advocate for the release of the remaining political prisoners.”
On 18 November, alongside Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Wong issued a joint statement on the delivery of verdicts in the MH17 trials in the Netherlands. Wong and Dreyfus stated that “Australia has been steadfast in our enduring commitment to seeking truth, justice, and accountability for the victims of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17” and that “while nothing can take away their grief, we hope the outcome of the trials brings some comfort to the bereaved loved ones of the victims, 38 of whom called Australia home.” They further noted that “The delivery of these verdicts is an important milestone in our collective efforts to hold those who are responsible to account.”
Wong, alongside Minister for Trade Don Farrell, Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt, and Assistant Minister for Trade Tim Ayres, welcomed the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to Australia on 22 November. The Ministers stated that “Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s visit is an opportunity to discuss how we can continue to work together to implement those outcomes, including investing in reforms to ensure the WTO can respond more effectively to the challenges facing the multilateral trading system.” They also announced that Australia will “commit $5 million over four years for targeted capacity building to assist developing countries and least developed countries implement the outcomes of [the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference] and access the benefits of WTO membership.” The funding includes $2 million to help developing countries implement the WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies and $3 million to support legal advice and training on WTO Law for developing and least developed countries through the Advisory Centre on WTO Law. The Ministers stated that the investments “will help our regional partners better integrate into the global and regional rules-based trading system, implement domestic reform, and improve the lives of their citizens.”
On 22 November, Albanese and Farrell announced that implementing legislation of both the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) and Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement (A-UKFTA) had passed Parliament. Albanese noted that “new trade agreements with India and the UK will strengthen our existing trade and economic relationships” and that they “will create new opportunities for trade diversification and great outcomes for Australian business and Australian families.” Farrell stated that “we are ready to implement these deals and will continue working closely with the UK and Indian Governments to implement the trade agreements as soon as possible.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles travelled to Cambodia and Vietnam on 22 November. He participated in the Ninth ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus on 23 November in Cambodia, and met with “a number of his counterparts, including Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for National Defence, General Tea Banh.” Marles then travelled to Vietnam to attend the inaugural High Level Meeting of Defence Ministers with Minister of National Defence, General Phan Van Giang. Ahead of the meeting, Marles stated that “Australia and Vietnam have strong and growing ties, and I look forward to holding the inaugural High Level Meeting with General Giang.”
Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy addressed Exemplar’s Parliamentary Forum on 22 November. He reflected on the 2022-23 Budget’s promise to deliver an additional $900 million over four years in Overseas Development Assistance to the Pacific, bringing it to an estimated $1.9 billion in this financial year. Alongside the development program, Conroy noted that Australia is “leveraging a broad range of national assets to support our Pacific family”, including “our longstanding security cooperation”, “access to our labour market and migration pathways”, “enduring people-to-people and cultural bonds”, “empowering women and girls, and people with disabilities”, and “our likeminded partnerships.” Conroy also reflected on Australia’s commitment to taking climate action and strengthening national and regional health systems in the Pacific. He noted that “climate change, strengthening health systems and disability inclusion are critical issues” that “impact our collective ability to foster a peaceful, prosperous and resilient Pacific.”
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts travelled to Bangladesh on 23 November to represent Australia at the 22nd meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Council of Ministers. IORA is the only “ministerial-level forum in the Indian Ocean” and Watts noted that it “plays a pivotal role in helping the region work together to address shared challenges.” While in Bangladesh, Watts will launch the Australian-funded IORA Blue Carbon Finance Report. He will also meet with regional counterparts, including the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Dr Abul Kalam Abdul Momen, “to discuss Australia’s constructive engagement across the Indian Ocean.”
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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