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7 April 2023: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

07 Apr 2023
By Isabella Keith
Parliament House At Dusk, Canberra ACT Source: Thennicke

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Wong’s statement on Cheng Lei, Marles travels to New Zealand, ASPI Sydney Dialogue addresses by Marles and Watts, and more.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong issued a statement on the detention of Cheng Lei on 31 March to acknowledge that it had been one year since Cheng’s closed trial in Beijing on national security charges. Wong noted that Cheng is “still waiting to learn the outcome of the trial” and that the Government “share[s] the deep concerns of Ms Cheng’s family and friends about the ongoing delays in her case.” She emphasised that the Government “has advocated at every opportunity for Ms Cheng to be reunited with her family” and “has consistently called for Ms Cheng to be afforded basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment in accordance with international norms.”

On 5 April, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles announced his upcoming trip to Wellington, New Zealand. While in New Zealand, Marles will meet with his counterparts, New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni, Minister of Defence Andrew Little, and Minister of Finance Grant Robertson, where they will “discuss opportunities to enhance the strategic focus of the relationship and how together we can help achieve better outcomes for our region.” Marles noted that “Australia is committed to working with New Zealand to respond to challenges in the Pacific, including mitigating the effects of climate change, and strengthening maritime security to support the Pacific Family” and that the two countries “have an ambitious agenda to deepen our defence cooperation to ensure we remain capable and effective in responding to our region’s multi-faceted security challenges.” The meeting will also be followed by an inaugural Foreign and Defence Ministers 2+2 Meeting in June this year.

Marles addressed the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Sydney Dialogue on 4 April, where he referred to “the AUKUS announcement and the technology sharing arrangements embodied in AUKUS between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, [as being] very central to our strategy in terms of improving the technology within our defence forces and within our nation’s defence industry.” He also discussed “pillar two area of AUKUS, which seeks to look at other emerging technologies is going to be fundamentally important for our nation as well” and said that Australia needs to make sure “that when it comes to human contest, we are right there with a technological edge.” Marles stated that this idea “is very central to how we are thinking about our strategic circumstances and how we’re thinking about advancing our national interests in the context of those strategic circumstances.”

Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts also addressed the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Sydney Dialogue on 5 April. He discussed the Government’s review of the Cyber Security Strategy led by Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil, and said that Australia’s “domestic and international cyber strategies” are being integrated. He also referred to the Government’s prioritisation of “reengaging with our Pacific family in our foreign policy agenda”, including the “existential risk” of climate change. Watts mentioned the 600 Australian Defence Force personnel deployed to Vanuatu in March in response to Cyclones Judy and Kevin, and noted that “as a member of the Pacific Islands family, we were there for another family member in their time of crisis. We always will be.” He referred to cyber incidents as being “similar in impact to a natural disaster … as nations become more reliant on [cyber] systems” and Australia’s response to cyberattacks in the Pacific, involving “Australian cyber security experts and diplomats [being] invited by Pacific countries to help respond to major crises.” Watts noted that “in the Albanese Government’s review of our Cyber Security Strategy, we’ve been thinking hard about how we can best support the economic development ambitions of Pacific countries, in the context of these growing cyber threats” and discussed the importance of balancing “the preservation and strengthening of sovereignty” in the Pacific with Australia’s “engagement and support in these causes.”

On 30 March, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia issued a joint media release with the governments of Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, recognising “the threat posed by the misuse of commercial spyware and the need for strict domestic and international controls on the proliferation and use of such technology.” The media release noted that “commercial spyware has been misused across the world by authoritarian regimes and in democracies” and that “too often, such powerful and invasive tools have been used to target and intimidate perceived opponents and facilitate efforts to curb dissent; limit freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, or association; enable human rights violations and abuses or suppression of civil liberties; or track or target individuals without proper legal authorization, safeguards, or oversight.” They committed to “counter[ing] the misuse of commercial spyware”, including through “working within our respective systems to establish robust guardrails and procedures to ensure that any commercial spyware use by our governments is consistent with respect for universal human rights, the rule of law, and civil rights and civil liberties” and “preventing the export of software, technology, and equipment to end-users who are likely to use them for malicious cyber activity.”

Minister for Trade Don Farrell welcomed the conclusion of negotiations on the United Kingdom’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on 31 March. He referred to the UK’s accession as “of strategic value to Australia and represents our shared interest in deepening cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region” as well as noting that it “builds on the foundations of the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement, firmly placing the UK within the Indo-Pacific region rules-based trading system.” He concluded by stating that “the UK’s accession to the CPTPP will contribute to more resilient global supply chains, benefiting the Australia economy and the economies of all nations who are members of the Partnership.” Farrell also issued a joint statement alongside the other CPTPP members and the United Kingdom following a joint meeting on 31 March, where they “welcomed the substantial conclusion of the negotiations for the accession of the UK to the CPTPP.”

Isabella Keith is a weekly columnist for Australian Outlook. She is also a Research Assistant, Sessional Academic, and Honours student in Law at the Australian National University, with a focus on international law. Isabella attended the AIIA #NextGen study tour to South Korea last year, and was also a delegate to the AIIA’s Australia-Korea-New Zealand and Australia-United States-Japan Policy Forums. She can be found on Twitter here.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.