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20 October 2023: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Fijian PM visits, Lithuanian President in Canberra, Marles in Korea and Japan for Defence Ministers’ Meetings, $10 million in humanitarian assistance for Gaza, and more.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed Prime Minister of Fiji Sitiveni Rabuka to Australia from 16 to 21 October for an official Guest of Government visit. During bilateral talks on 18 October, the Prime Ministers “welcomed the signing of a renewed and elevated Vuvale Partnership representing the principles and priorities of both countries and reflecting the growing maturity of the bilateral relationship.” They also discussed “the real and existential threat of climate change”, Fiji’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery, people-to-people ties, and labour mobility. The Prime Ministers “looked forward to working together closely as leaders, as ‘vuvale’, to further strengthen the partnership between Fiji and Australia for their citizens, the next generation and for the region.”

On 19 October, Albanese met with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda in Canberra. President Nausėda welcomed Australia’s close partnership with the European Union, and both leaders reaffirmed “their commitment to the conclusion of a comprehensive and ambitious Australia-EU Trade Agreement and to building trade and economic relations.” The leaders also “reaffirmed their condemnation of Russia’s illegal, immoral and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and reiterated their steadfast support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Albanese noted that “strong community ties underpin the modern Australia-Lithuania relationship, which is warm and continues to evolve to meet shared opportunities and challenges.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles travelled to the Republic of Korea and Japan for Defence Ministers’ Meetings from 18 to 19 October. Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense Shin Won-sik and Marles met in Seoul, where they reaffirmed the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and committed to “expand[ing] cooperation bilaterally and with regional partners and institutions to promote a free, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region with adherence to rules and norms.” They also exchanged “signed MOUs between the ROK Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Australian Army, the Royal Australian Navy, and the Royal Australian Air Force to create opportunities for increased interoperability and more complex military exercises.” In Tokyo, Marles met with Japanese Minister of Defense, Kihara Minoru. The Ministers welcomed the entry into force of the “landmark” Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement, which they described as “transforming our defence cooperation and enhancing the interoperability of our forces.” They also discussed other recent “milestones” in the bilateral defence relationship, including Australian Defence Force participation in Japan-United States exercises Yama Sakura in November 2023 and Keen Edge in February 2024, as well as progress under the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation to enhance the scope, objectives and forms of enhanced operational cooperation.

On 14 October, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy announced an initial $10 million in humanitarian assistance for civilians affected by the conflict in Gaza. Australia will provide $3 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross “to fund urgent needs like restoring essential services and providing medical support to victims of the conflict”, and will provide $7 million through United Nations agencies “to deliver critical support including emergency water, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene services, as well as child protection.” Wong noted that “We have seen devastating loss of innocent life since the heinous attacks on Israel by brutal terrorist group Hamas. Far from representing the Palestinian people, Hamas undermines Palestinian needs and aspirations.” She also emphasised that “President Biden has called on Israel to operate by the rules of war in its response to Hamas attacks – we join him and others in that call” and that “adherence to international humanitarian law must be prioritised – including the protection of civilians, wherever they live.” Wong, Marles and Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten issued a statement on 16 October, stating that the Government has safely airlifted 255 people using two Royal Australian Air Force Flights and a Government-supported private charter from Ben Gurion Airport in Israel to Dubai.

Wong issued a statement on 18 October noting that Australia has “reimposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on 19 Iranian individuals and 57 entities for their role in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.” The sanctions were previously imposed under United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 and will now be listed under Australia’s autonomous sanctions framework, “consistent with the approach taken by international partners.” A further three individuals and 11 entities were also listed, “due to their association with persons or entities sanctioned under UNSC Resolution 2231.” Wong stated that the sanctions “demonstrate Australia’s commitment to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and determination to work with our international partners.”

On 17 October, Wong and Conroy announced that the Government will provide $500,000 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees “to alleviate the suffering of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians who fled the region following Azerbaijan’s recent military escalation.” They stated that “Australia is deeply concerned by the humanitarian situation and the welfare of the more than 100,000 people from Nagorno-Karabakh now in Armenia” and that the contribution “will be delivered by the UNHCR to help provide shelter and supplies to refugees and host communities.” The Ministers also emphasised that “Australia has been clear that we expect Azerbaijan should guarantee the rights and security of the inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh, including those who may wish to return from Armenia.”

Wong, Conroy, and Minister for Immigration Andrew Giles noted on 18 October that the Senate had passed legislation “to enable the delivery of the Albanese government’s election commitment of a new Pacific Engagement Visa.” The Pacific Engagement Visa “will enable up to 3,000 nationals of Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste to migrate to Australia as permanent residents each year.” The Ministers stated that the Visa will “create new opportunities for the people of the Pacific and Timor-Leste to live, work and be educated in Australia – strengthening diaspora communities, and encouraging greater cultural, business and educational exchange.”

On 16 October, Conroy announced that the Australian Government will continue its support to enable Fiji to participate in Super Rugby Pacific and Australia’s Super W Competition for the next four years. He stated that “Australia and Fiji have a long-standing rugby history and the unique rugby bond that unites the two countries is stronger than ever.” The investment will be delivered through PacificAus Sports, the Government’s $15.6 million “high performance sport program in the Pacific.”

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts addressed the Australia India Institute’s Australia India Leadership Dialogue on 17 October. Watts noted that this year alone, there have been 16 visits by Australian Ministers to India, including the Prime Minister twice, and that “our high-level engagement underscores the value Australia places on deepening our ties with India”. He also noted that “deepening people-to-people links between Australia and India is also a focus for the newly established Centre for Australia-India Relations, including through harnessing the existing connections of the Indian diaspora in Australia.”

On 17 October, Watts delivered a speech to the Australia-China Business Council’s 50th Anniversary Dinner. He noted that “the trajectory of the relationship between Australia and China in the last half century has been extraordinary” and was built “on the solid ground established by Gough Whitlam, who opened the doors to our diplomatic relationship.” Watts emphasised “the role of people, including Australians of Chinese heritage, who consistently drive the business links between our countries.” He further stated that “the Australian Government believes it is in the interests of both Australia and China to continue on the path of stabilising and developing the relationship” and that “we’ll maintain our calm and consistent approach … to cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, and engage in the national interest.”

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.