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29 June 2022

With Grant Wyeth

Albanese in Europe


Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s trip to Europe this week provides an opportunity to repair relations with France. Despite the distance between Paris and Canberra, France is one of Australia’s closest neighbours, as its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) emanating from New Caledonia meets Australia’s EEZ in the Coral Sea. Also, including its dependencies in the Indian Ocean, there are 1.6 million French citizens who live within the Indo-Pacific.

In 2018, President Emmanuel Macron launched France’s defence strategy for the Indo-Pacific at Sydney’s Garden Island naval base – highlighting the importance of Australia to France’s regional vision. A A$90 billion contract with French defence manufacturer Naval Group to build Australia’s new diesel-electric submarine fleet was a central component of this strategy. France saw cooperation with Australia as essential to protect both countries’ interests in the region.

But in September last year, the Morrison government terminated the submarines contract. The abrupt and secretive manner by which the deal was scrapped created a major rift in what should be considered one of Australia’s most important relationships. 

France maintains a permanent military force of 7000 personnel, and hardware of twenty naval vessels and forty aircraft throughout the Indo-Pacific region. It regularly engages in freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea.

The Albanese government has paid Naval Group A$830 million in compensation, but France’s grievance was not solely financial. It was about a breakdown in trust and transparency between two countries with shared values and interests. The election of a new Australian government offers the chance to re-establish this crucial bond.

Marles in India

The Albanese government’s international outreach continued last week with the defence minister, Richard Marles, travelling to India on a four-day visit. The visit signalled a commitment to continue the work of the previous government to enhance Australia’s security relationship with India, in the hope that this will provide a counterweight to China’s growing strength in the Indo-Pacific.

The relationship also highlights Australia’s desire to enhance its presence in the Indian Ocean, a maritime domain where India sees itself as the natural security provider. Speaking at the National Defence College in New Delhi, Marles stated, “Australia’s cooperation in the Indian Ocean is underdone. We can afford to do more, not only bilaterally but also trilaterally with others such as Indonesia.” This proposal stresses how crucial trade routes across the Indian Ocean and into South-East Asia continue to be.

Marles also invited India to participate in next year’s Talisman Sabre, the biennial military exercise in northern Australia that is the largest joint training operation between Australia and the United States, but often involves other friendly powers. India has been keen to engage in naval cooperation with Australia through the biennial AUSINDEX bilateral exercise in the Bay of Bengal, and through Exercise Malabar which has consolidated into a Quad-focused training with the US and Japan. Land-based military training is the obvious next step in security cooperation between Canberra and New Delhi.

Jokowi in Moscow

This week, Indonesia’s president, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, is travelling to both Ukraine and Russia in a display of international diplomacy that is uncommon for Jakarta. It is a sign that Indonesia is becoming more comfortable with its burgeoning power and is taking its presidency of the G20 seriously. Jokowi will be the first non-European or Western leader to visit Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February.

Indonesia’s foreign policy of being a “friend to all”, without the history of antagonism that clouds relations between Russia and the West, is an opportunity for President Putin to view Jokowi’s diplomatic efforts with less suspicion and cynicism. Jokowi has so far resisted Western calls for him to uninvite Putin to the G20 summit in Bali in November, and this may lead to Putin being less dismissive of the Indonesian president’s attempt to seek a solution to the war.

While Jokowi’s diplomatic efforts should be viewed as genuine, his mission is motivated by the impact Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is having on Indonesia. Indonesia is the largest wheat importer in the world, and last year a quarter of its supply came from Ukraine. Without access to this supply, the cost of wheat in Indonesia has begun to increase noticeably. Indonesia imports 4.6 million tonnes of wheat annually from Australia, but having suppliers in both the northern and southern hemisphere is vital to maintain sources in different harvest seasons.

The rising cost of wheat is not only affecting Indonesia. If Jokowi can convince Putin to end Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea, averting a global food crisis will be a huge diplomatic victory for Jakarta.



From AFA12: FEELING THE HEAT

A free extract from “Ripple Effect” by Wesley Morgan

“As other powers have exercised climate diplomacy they have, perhaps inadvertently, highlighted Australia’s lack of climate action. In 2018, New Zealand legislated a net-zero emissions target for 2050, which in the eyes of Pacific leaders set Wellington apart from Canberra. At the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ retreat, while Morrison argued over the text of a regional climate declaration, Bainimarama took a lunchtime walk with Jacinda Ardern. He live-tweeted a picture of the two strolling the Funafuti foreshore, captioning it, ‘When combatting climate change, it’s good to have an ally like New Zealand in your corner. Together, we can save Tuvalu, the Pacific, and the world. Vinaka vakalevu [thank you so much] for the passion you bring to this fight, @jacindaardern’. Ardern told reporters that ‘Australia has to answer to the Pacific’ on climate change. The contrast between other countries and Australia is especially pronounced this year, as major powers the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom work with Pacific island countries to press for stronger targets before the COP26 summit.”CONTINUE READING

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Weekly round-up

New directions in Australia–South-East Asia relations

“There is a risk that an ever-increasing focus on coordination among like-minded countries, including the Quad, South Korea, and European partners, may distract from the core business of partnering with South-East Asian countries. Better coordination alone will not shift the regional balance but offering South-East Asian countries real choices and deep partnership may.” Susannah Patton,the interpreter (lowy institute)

Australia and other Pacific nations’ invitation to NATO meeting signals strategic shift for alliance

“At a time of European crisis, NATO, under Jens Stoltenberg’s leadership, is looking beyond its continental defence to the protection of the rules-based world order and how to respond to an authoritarian Beijing … This is a significant shift that promises to help serve Australia and other members of the AP4 [Asia-Pacific Four] in the face of China’s economic coercion and strategic plays in the Indo-Pacific.” Andrew Probyn,abc news

How Australia can find common purpose with China

“Enfolding China in multilateral arrangements, economically and politically, together with regional partners is the best way forward for both Australia and China to manage their big bilateral relationship. There are immediate opportunities in regional and global arrangements – especially within the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the G20 – to work on shared multilateral interests and overcome the trust deficit …” Peter Drysdale & Shiro Armstrong,east asia forum

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We are now in a global Cold War

“Plainly, the major Western powers now believe that – from Mariupol, Ukraine, on the Black Sea to Taipei, Taiwan, on the Taiwan Strait and possibly all the way to Honiara, Solomon Islands, in the South Pacific – a new sort of iron curtain is descending around the world … And when it comes to Asia, in front of this new curtain lies firm Western allies and democracies, such as Japan, Australia and South Korea.” Michael Hirsh,foreign policy

South Korea’s Green New Deal – a very big deal for Australia

“To these economic opportunities of a green hydrogen shift we would add the geostrategic opportunity to diversify Australia’s export base away from China, and to signal to the Pacific region that by moving away from natural gas Australia – finally – is serious about tackling climate change. China’s newly invigorated courtship of Australia’s Pacific neighbours renders this path not just desirable, but imperative.” Elizabeth Thurbon, Sung-Young Kim, Hao Tan & John Mathews,asia society

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New from Black Inc books

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