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27 January 2023: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

26 Jan 2023
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Wong acknowledges fourth year of Dr Yang Jun’s detention; 50th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; Watts heads to Vienna; and more.

On 19 January, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong issued a media release acknowledging the fourth anniversary of Dr Yang Jun’s detention in China. She noted that the Australian Government “is deeply troubled by the ongoing delays in his case” and that Dr Yang “still awaits a verdict.” Wong also stated that “Since Dr Yang was detained, the Australian Government has called for basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be afforded to Dr Yang, in accordance with international norms and China’s legal obligations.” The Australian Government “will continue to advocate for Dr Yang’s interests and wellbeing at the highest levels and provide consular assistance to Dr Yang and his family.” Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Birmingham similarly expressed the Opposition’s “deep concern for Dr Yang’s welfare as well as his limitations on access to legal representation” and “urge[d] the Albanese Government to use all available diplomatic means to secure the release of Dr Yang as well as Ms Cheng Lei who was detained August 2020.”

Wong celebrated the 50th anniversary of Australia’s ratification of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on 23 January. She referred to the NPT as “central to the Australian Government’s ambition of a world without nuclear weapons” and that it “has been critical to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and has been fundamental to global security over the past five decades.” She further stated that “as we face a deteriorating international security environment, including Russia’s desperate and reckless nuclear threats, Iran’s refusal to comply with its non-proliferation obligations, North Korea’s provocative violations of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions, and the opaque nuclear arsenal build-up occurring in our region, the work of the NPT is critical.” Also on 23 January, Wong wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian which noted the importance of the NPT and that the AUKUS partnership does not breach Australia’s NPT obligations, because “the submarines we propose to acquire are nuclear-powered, not nuclear armed … [and] naval nuclear propulsion is not prohibited – but is in fact contemplated – by the NPT.” Wong concluded, stating that “in both our endeavours, to enhance Australia’s defence capability, and to support practical action on non-proliferation and disarmament, we seek the same goal – a peaceful, stable and prosperous region.”

On 21 January, Wong noted that Australia and the Republic of Serbia have signed a new social security agreement which “will improve access to retirement benefits for eligible people who have moved between the two countries.” The agreement was signed in Belgrade by Australian Ambassador to Serbia, Daniel Emery, and Serbian Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, Nikola Selakovic. Wong referred to the agreement as “an important milestone in Australia’s longstanding relationship with Serbia” and noted that it “strengthens our bilateral relationship and incentivises further trade and investment between Australia and Serbia.”

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts announced his travels to Vienna this week on 25 January, where he will “reaffirm Australia’s long-standing support of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and deepen bilateral ties with Austria.” Watts will meet with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi to discuss “Australia’s support for the Agency’s crucial role promoting the safe and secure use of nuclear technology around the world.” He also noted that “Australia is committed to our obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” and that “we will continue to work transparently with the IAEA to set the highest possible non-proliferation standards, including for our proposed acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines under AUKUS.” While in Vienna, Watts will also meet with Austrian Secretary-General for Foreign Affairs, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, to celebrate 70 years of bilateral diplomatic relations. Watts and Launsky-Tieffenthal will discuss “how we can expand our trade and investment ties, including through concluding our trade agreement negotiations with the EU, as well as opportunities for further engagement and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.”

On 23 January, Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil issued a statement noting the commencement of operations of the International Counter Ransomware Task Force, chaired by Australia. O’Neil said that the Task Force “will enable sustained and impactful international collaboration, designed to disrupt, combat and defend against the increasing ransomware threat and called on other countries to join the collective effort.” She further noted that “ransomware represents a significant global threat, and Australia will continue to play a leading role working with international partners, industry and the community to develop effective responses to combat cyber criminals and protect our people and institutions.” The other members of the Counter Ransomware Initiative are Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Ukraine, and the EU.

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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