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28 May: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

28 May 2021
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: temporary closure of the Australian Embassy in Afghanistan, DFAT’s new Indigenous Diplomacy Agenda, Dr Yang Hengjun to face trial in China, and more.

On 25 May, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne announced the temporary closure of the Australian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Ministers stated that the decision was made ‘in light of the imminent international military withdrawal’ which will create ‘an increasingly uncertain security environment where the Government has been advised that security arrangements could not be provided to support our ongoing presence.’ They further noted that Australia ‘will resume a permanent presence in Kabul once circumstances permit.’ The Embassy will close on 28 May, and as an interim measure Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) officials will visit Afghanistan ‘regularly from a residential Post elsewhere in the region.’ Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong argued that the Government ‘must outline the factors that led to this decision and whether it considered alternative options to manage the changing security environment’, and expressed disappointment that ‘there was no bipartisan consultation on this important decision.’

Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Frances Adamson, delivered a speech at the Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory on 20 May to launch DFAT’s new Indigenous Diplomacy Agenda. Adamson stated that ‘in 2021, … the status of our indigenous people is a foreign policy issue.’ She referred to the Agenda as being ‘about elevating indigenous issues in our foreign policy, taking a more systematic approach that ensures we bring to bear the full capacity of Indigenous Australia in our work, while contributing to Australia’s reconciliation journey.’ The Agenda has four pillars: to shape the international system, and its norms and standards, to benefit indigenous people; to maximise the opportunities for Indigenous Australians and indigenous peoples everywhere in a globalised world; to promote sustainable development for all indigenous peoples; and to best utilise DFAT’s Indigenous staff and to make DFAT more culturally competent. Adamson aid that ‘DFAT’s challenge today, to be an authentically Australian foreign service, is to fully represent and serve our nation … We must continue to build Indigenous Australia into our diplomacy: its people, its languages, its cultures, and its history.’

Payne issued a statement on 21 May, where she stated that Australian citizen, Dr Yang Hengjun, will face trial in China on 27 May. Dr Yang has been detained since January 2019 on allegations of espionage. Payne stated that, ‘despite repeated requests by Australian officials, Chinese authorities have not provided any explanation or evidence for the charges facing Dr Yang.’ She also requested that Australian officials be permitted access to Dr Yang’s hearing on 27 May, ‘in line with China’s obligations under the Australia-China bilateral consular agreement.’ Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong noted that Labor ‘strongly support[s] the Government’s advocacy for Dr Yang.’

On 20 May, Payne congratulated Dr Robert Floyd on his election as Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty Organization. Floyd is the first Executive Secretary elected from the Indo-Pacific and is currently the Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, which implements Australia’s treaty obligations relating to weapons of mass destruction.

Payne issued a statement on 24 May strongly condemning the interception of a Ryanair flight by the Belarusian Government and the subsequent arrest of Belarusian opposition blogger and passenger Roman Protasevich. She also stated that the Australian Government is ‘concerned by reports that the Belarusian Government allegedly grounded the flight on the false pretence of a security threat’, referring to this as an ‘unprecedented action’ that ‘put innocent lives of airline passengers at risk.’ Payne called for Protasevich’s immediate release and a full investigation into the event.

Along with Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja, Payne announced on 20 May that Australia is providing an additional $52 million in targeted financing to assist the Government of Papua New Guinea in its response to COVID-19. The support will specifically assist in the health and education sectors.

Payne and Seselja also announced on 21 May that Australia will be providing $17.5 million in funding for COVID-19 emergency relief to Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, including $5 million to Bangladesh, $7 million to Nepal, and $5.5 million to Sri Lanka. The support will be ‘delivered by trusted on-the-ground partners’ including the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and the United Nations.

On 20 May, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations, Mitch Fifield, issued a statement ‘wholeheartedly welcom[ing]’ the announcement of a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian people. Fifield reaffirmed Australia’s support of a two-state solution and stated that ‘peace is the only solution to this conflict.’

Isabella Keith is an undergraduate student at the Australian National University studying Law and Politics, Philosophy and Economics. She is currently an intern at the AIIA National Office.

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