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25 August 2023: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Albanese addresses ALP National Conference on AUKUS, Marles in Malaysia and the Philippines, Ukraine Independence Day, Wong in Vietnam, and more.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addressed the ALP National Conference on 18 August, where he discussed the AUKUS partnership and referred to it as being “consistent with the Labor values that I have been a part of my whole life” – “our US alliance”, “regional engagement” and “support for multilateralism.” Albanese noted that Australia’s acquisition of submarines under the partnership reflects “the choices of a mature nation, a nation that understands that a bright future calls for more than sunny optimism.” He emphasised that “we have to analyse the world as it is rather than how we would want it to be” and that AUKUS is central to “bring[ing] our defence capabilities up to speed”. Albanese noted that AUKUS is “an act of clear-eyed pragmatism that works for the national interest and in the context of greater good.” He also referred to Australia’s other relationships, including “with Europe, to the point whereby President Macron was backing the Matildas the other night” and “with China, [where] we are working towards stabilisation [and] having adult conversations between us.”

This week, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles travelled to Malaysia and the Philippines. While in Kuala Lumpur, Marles co-chaired the 3rd High Level Committee meeting with Malaysia’s Minister of Defence, YB Dato’ Seri Utama Haji Mohamad bin Haji Hasan and met Australian Defence Force personnel at Royal Malaysian Air Force Base Butterworth. In the Philippines, Marles will “observe significant bilateral training as part of Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2023” and will also meet his Philippines counterpart, Secretary for National Defense, Gilberto Teodoro. He stated that his visit “underlines the Government’s commitment to investing in our partnerships in Southeast Asia … that support a more peaceful, stable and prosperous region.”

Marles marked Ukraine’s Independence Day on 24 August, noting that it “carries special importance to all Ukrainians, not only commemorating independence from the former Soviet Union but also marking 18 months since the beginning of Russia’s immoral and illegal invasion.” He stated that “Australia recognises the bravery, resilience and sacrifice of the Ukrainian people defending their homeland from Russian brutality” and reaffirmed that “Australia will support Ukraine for as long as it takes to resolve this conflict on its own terms.” Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton, alongside Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Birmingham and Shadow Minister for Defence Andrew Hastie similarly “reinforce[d] their commitment to Ukraine and its people.”

This week, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong visited Vietnam for the second time as Foreign Minister “to further deepen Australia’s cooperation with a key ASEAN partner.” While in Hanoi, Wong will meet with Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son and other senior leaders “to discuss a range of shared interests, including our economic and security ties.” Son and Wong will hold the fifth annual Australia-Vietnam Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, where they will discuss “regional priorities and how we can expand our cooperation, including on climate change, trade and investment, education, and digital delivery of government services.” She will also visit Ho Chi Minh City for the first time as Foreign Minister and will “meet with Australians of Vietnamese heritage who are driving our economic cooperation.”

On 18 August, Wong addressed the ALP National Conference on the topic of “Working for Australia in the World”. She reiterated Albanese’s comments that the Government is “working for Australia to ensure we not only meet the challenges of this moment, we seize the opportunities of the decade ahead”. Wong emphasised that “the challenges we face in this moment are serious”, including “Russia’s illegal and immoral full-scale invasion of Ukraine” and “encroachments on the ability of countries to make their own decisions … closer to home.” She noted that “since day one, when the Prime Minister and I travelled to the Quad in Tokyo, the Albanese Government, on behalf of all of you, and all Australians, has been renewing many of our closest relationships, restoring trust.” Wong stated that “building the conditions that maintain peace must be the greatest purpose of all countries’ diplomacy” but that “all countries must also play their part in collective deterrence of aggression.” She therefore noted that “this is why we are committed to AUKUS” and “why we are redoubling our efforts toward a world without nuclear weapons – continuing Labor’s proud tradition in non-proliferation and disarmament.” Wong concluded by emphasising that the Government “is deploying all elements of our statecraft, our national power [and] to maintain peace and avert conflict [and] to ensure we are more confident and more secure at home – and more influential in our region and in the world.”

Minister for Trade Don Farrell, alongside Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts and Assistant Minister for Trade Tim Ayres, jointly announced on 21 August the upgrading of the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA). Watts signed the Second Protocol to Amend the Agreement, in the margins of the 28th ASEAN Economic Ministers – Closer Economic Relations Consultation meeting that day in Semarang, Indonesia. The Ministers noted that the development “modernises AANZFTA to ensure it continues to deliver benefits for businesses, workers and consumers in Australia and our region.” The upgrade includes “additional commitments on services and investment that will benefit Australian exporters and investors” and will also include “key commitments on sustainable and inclusive trade, facilitating enhanced cooperation on environmental protection, green economy, labour issues, and women’s economic empowerment.”

On 22 August, Farrell addressed the Australian-British Chamber of Commerce and discussed the implementation of the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement, “a gold-standard trade agreement”. He referred to the Agreement as “one of the most comprehensive, innovative and ambitious trade agreements concluded by Australia, and has ushered in a new era in our economic relationship.” Farrell noted that “in the first month the trade deal entered into force, Australia’s exports to the UK increased by almost 200 per cent from the same time last year.” He discussed the impact of tariff-free red meat and sugar exports, and also noted that the Agreement “also makes it easier for Australian professionals, service providers, and investors to do business in the UK market.” Farrell also emphasised that the Agreement “preserves the right of governments to regulate in the public interest, including for the environment, education, and health” and that “importantly, there is no Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism.”

Ayres travelled to India on 23 August to attend the G20 Trade and Investment Ministers’ Meeting in Jaipur, and the B20 Business Summit in New Delhi. He noted that he “look[s] forward to meeting with my G20 counterparts to discuss how we can boost international trade and investment to help create more jobs, and address slowing global growth.” Ayres also stated that he will “advocate for Australia’s trade interests, including to reinforce G20 support for a strong rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at its core.” He will also use the visit to discuss progress on the Australia-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, “which we are looking to conclude this year”. While in India, Ayres will also “meet with European counterparts to discuss progress on the Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement negotiations.” Finally, in New Delhi, Ayres will join the Australian business delegation at the B20 Business Summit “to promote our incredible exporters, products and services in a growing market of 1.4 billion consumers.”

This week, Watts visited Indonesia to represent Australia at the 55th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting in Semarang and to attend the Second Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement Ministers’ Meeting. He also attended the East Asia Summit Economic Ministers’ Meeting, where he “emphasise[d] Australia’s support for open and inclusive trade, a resilient economic region, and deeper economic integration and development.” Watts noted that “Australia is committed to working closely with ASEAN to deliver outcomes under our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and our regional trade agreements” and that “Indonesia is central to Australia’s prosperity and our security, as reflected by our membership of these regional trade partnerships and the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.”

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.