9 September 2022: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs
This week in Australian foreign affairs: Defence Cooperation Agreement signed with Timor-Leste; Wong on Xinjiang; Judge Charlesworth’s ICJ bid supported; Marles’ trip to Europe; and more.
On 7 September, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and President Dr Jose Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste signed a reciprocal Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) in Canberra. The DCA “will allow Australia and Timor-Leste to increase defence and security cooperation, especially in the maritime domain, given our shared border and adjacent maritime zones.” During their meeting, the leaders also discussed “economic security, economic cooperation, labour mobility and skills, the green economy and Australia’s support for Timor-Leste’s ASEAN membership bid.” Albanese noted that “we have been working towards a DCA for over a decade and today’s signing is a significant step forward in our partnership.”
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong issued a statement on 1 September noting the that the Australian Government is “deeply concerned about the findings of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report on Xinjiang.” She noted that Australia has “consistently condemned human rights violations against the Uyghurs and other ethnic and Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and across China” and has also “emphasised the importance of transparency and accountability, in calling on China to grant meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for United Nations experts, and other independent observers.” Wong urged the Chinese Government “to address the concerns raised in this report” and stated that “Australia expects all countries to adhere to their international human rights obligations.”
On 2 September, Wong and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus issued a joint media release announcing the Australian Government’s support for Judge Hilary Charlesworth’s re-election as a Judge of the International Court of Justice. The election will be held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in late 2023, and the Australian National Group will formally nominate Judge Charlesworth as a candidate when nominations open in early 2023. Wong noted that “Judge Charlesworth is an outstanding candidate, and an eminent scholar and jurist who has made an exceptional contribution to the study and practice of international law” and that she is “the first Australian woman elected to the Court and only the fifth female permanent judge in the Court’s 77-year history.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles was hosted by then-United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson and United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace at the commissioning of HMS Anson at BAE Systems, Barrow on 1 September. Johnson and Wallace announced the “training of Royal Australian Navy submariners aboard the newly commissioned HMS Anson”, which will take place as part of the AUKUS partnership. Marles stated that “Australia is eager to learn from our counterparts, and who better to learn from than our friends in the United Kingdom” and that “the technology, capability and lethality on show is truly impressive and Australia looks forward to progressing our talks through the AUKUS partnership.”
On 1 September, Marles met with his French Counterpart, French Minister for Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu, in France. This was the second meeting since their respective appointments and discussions centred on underlining the Ministers’ “shared commitment to strengthening the Australia-France defence partnership”, including through opportunities for strategic cooperation. They also committed to “developing projects that will further enable the French-Australian defence relationship to advance our shared interests as neighbours in a prosperous, resilient and secure Indo-Pacific” and “discussed opportunities to strengthen the rules-based order in the face of an increasingly contested strategic environment.” Moreover, the Ministers welcomed the upcoming dialogue between armaments officials in the coming weeks, which will explore “a new, mutually beneficial bilateral framework to guide defence equipment and industry collaboration.” Finally, the Ministers will explore opportunities for bilateral collaboration in the development of space defence capabilities.
Marles published an opinion piece in the United Kingdom newspaper, The Times, on 31 August, reflecting on the “increasingly uncertain world” that Australia and the United Kingdom inhabit. He referred to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as proof of the fact that “events in one region can have devastating effects across the globe.” Marles stated that “both our countries see lessons for the Indo-Pacific … where the strategic circumstances are as complex as they have been since World War II.” He noted that “military build-up in the region is occurring at an astonishing rate, with the largest investment in new capability occurring in China.” Moreover, he argued that “only by ensuring such tactics fail in Ukraine can we deter their future employment elsewhere.” Marles reflected on the importance of the AUKUS partnership, stating that it has “breathed new life into the UK-Australia relationship”, and also noted Australia’s support for the United Kingdom’s ‘tilt’ to the Indo-Pacific.
On 1 September, Marles published another opinion piece in the French newspaper, Le Figaro, where he reflected on the history of the Australia-France relationship and acknowledged that “the past year has been a difficult one for our bilateral relationship, testing longstanding bonds of friendship and amity.”Marles stated that “given the ever-increasing strategic uncertainty our nations are facing, both Australia and France need strong partnerships more than ever.” He noted the importance of Albanese and President Macron’s agreement to “rebuild the bilateral relationship” in July, and expressed his own commitment to increased collaboration with France, including in military exercises in the Indo-Pacific.
Marles published a third opinion piece on 30 August in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, where he noted that this year is Germany’s first time participating in Exercise Pitch Black, the joint military exercise hosted in Northern Australia which brings together 17 nations. He stated that Germany “is an important, close and likeminded friend of Australia” and that Germany’s participation in Pitch Black “demonstrates the growing resolve of Australia and Germany to work together to foster security in the Indo-Pacific region.” Marles also noted that Germany will participate in the maritime Exercise Kakadu in September, and has been invited to participate in Exercise Talisman Sabre in 2023. He reflected on the opportunities to explore renewable energy, critical minerals, and climate change, stating that “we may be geographically distant, but our values are the same.”
On 2 September, Minister for Trade Don Farrell issued a joint media release alongside his United Kingdom Counterpart, Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan, following their meeting in Adelaide. The pair discussed “ways of strengthening the Australia-United Kingdom economic and trade partnership” and reflected on the “significant and comprehensive relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom.” They both “noted the importance of progressing the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement, which will liberalise trade between our countries, and create jobs and opportunities for our citizens.” Farrell and Trevelyan also attended the launch of the Australian office of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd while in Adelaide, which is a subsidiary of Airbus and “represents an important addition to Adelaide’s space ecosystem.” Farrell stated that “our economic and trade relationship will continue to grow from strength to strength with the finalisation of the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement.”
Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy travelled to Solomon Islands to deliver a speech on the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal on 7 August. He reflected on the Battle and its lasting effects, and acknowledged “the roles of the Solomon Islands Scouts and Coastwatchers in that campaign.” Conroy acknowledged that the “curse of unexploded ordnance still afflicts Solomon Islands today” and that Australia “remains committed to working with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force” to solve this issue. He noted that explosive ordnance disposal cooperation is a key part of Australia’s defence partnership with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, and that Australia is “focused on building up [the Police Force’s] own explosive ordnance disposal capacity.”
On 2 September, Conroy announced that Australia will provide $500,000 to assist with Tuvalu’s response to drought and acute water shortages. He stated that the support “will transport emergency relief items to improve water security and deliver supplies in a COVID-safe way, including mobile desalination consumables and items for water purification and storage.” Up to $100,000 of the assistance will be directed to UNICEF’s water and sanitation activities, which are run in partnership with local providers. Conroy stated that “Australia is standing shoulder to shoulder with Pacific Island countries in response to the climate change crisis” and that “the people and Government of Tuvalu can rely on Australia in a crisis, as a steadfast partner and fellow member of the Pacific family.”
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.
This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.