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25 May 2022

With Grant Wyeth

Albanese in Tokyo

Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and foreign minister, Penny Wong, began their roles with an immediate trip to Tokyo to attend the Quad summit with leaders from the United States, Japan and India. The change in government will not create significant change in Australia’s foreign policy, but may provide opportunities to improve Australia’s international ties and standing in areas where the previous government struggled, particularly due to its climate policy. 

The incoming government has expressed its desire to enhance Australia’s relationship with South-East Asian and Pacific island countries. The Quad meeting on Tuesday neatly aligned with these goals, especially as it included a new initiative to curb illegal fishing throughout the Indo-Pacific. 

For Pacific island countries, illegal fishing is a critical issue. Just over half of the global tuna market is caught in the western and central Pacific Ocean – an area that includes the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the fifteen Pacific island countries. Yet the demand for tuna means there are constant incursions into their EEZs that not only cost Pacific island countries hundreds of millions of dollars, but also threaten the sustainable management of the ocean ecosystem through overfishing.

It is estimated that 95 per cent of all vessels fishing illegally in the Pacific and Indian oceans are from China, though the actual size and scale of Chinese illegal fishing operations is difficult to ascertain. While China has laws that seek to adhere to international norms, it is often incapable of enforcing them on its fishers. 

The Quad proposes to build greater connections between surveillance centres in Singapore, India and Solomon Islands, and enhance their operations with satellite technology capable of monitoring vessels even when they have their transponders turned off. This is a practical measure that, if successful, should help achieve the Quad’s goal of gaining credibility and legitimacy as a major Indo-Pacific convenor.

Penny Wong

Despite the image Australia often projects of a rough and blokey culture, the face the Australian government has sought to engage with the world over the past decade has been a female one. Julie Bishop became Australia’s first female foreign minister in 2013, followed by Marise Payne, and now Penny Wong. There is an important symbolism here, but this should not be mistaken for a lack of substance. 

While Australia has not committed itself to a feminist foreign policy that countries like Sweden and Spain have adopted, it has began to internalise many of its core assumptions. Central to feminist foreign policy is the advancement of gender equality and a belief that women have traits of collaboration, negotiation and understanding that men often lack. And that promoting leaders who are more diplomatic and empathetic should help to address major global problems, such as war, greed, instability and inequity. 

Theories of personal and international relations aside, Australia’s engagement with the world should also reflect the kind of country it is. Its political institutions have lagged behind in representing the country’s demography. As someone of Chinese-Malay background, Wong’s high-profile position demonstrates Australia’s emerging self-confidence. 

Yet diverse leadership is not simply a box-ticking exercise – it ensures institutions have essential knowledge they may otherwise lack. Australia’s multicultural make-up is an asset that can produce a more intimate and sophisticated understanding of the world. 

Canada bans Huawei

Canada has joined Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States in banning the use of technology from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE in its 5G networks. Ottawa has stated that these companies’ local operations could be forced to comply with “extrajudicial directions from foreign governments” in a manner that could “conflict with Canadian laws or would be detrimental to Canadian interests.” Chinese law requires companies to cooperate with its intelligence services when asked. 

Canada’s decision to ban these two companies has come after a brutal lesson in Chinese diplomacy. After the United States issued an extradition request to Canada for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on fraud charges relating to her alleged breaking of its sanctions on Iran, China arbitrarily detained two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – for close to three years, claiming they were spies. 

When the United States dropped its charges against Meng – and the extradition request was rescinded – both men were immediately released. Beijing wasn’t embarrassed that it had detained these men on false charges, it wanted the world to know how it operates. It was an indication of how close Huawei is to the Chinese government, and that Beijing views the company as a strategic asset. 

However, China’s coercive behaviour has undermined this asset by demonstrating that Huawei cannot be trusted with sensitive communications infrastructure. The saga left Ottawa with no choice but to ban the company, and it sent a strong signal to other countries to think twice about how they roll out their own 5G networks. 


A free extract from “Unfinished Business” by Linda Jakobson

“Today’s tensions are more precarious than ever because all three parties instrumental to Taiwan’s future – Taiwan, the PRC and the United States – have changed their approach.

What hasn’t changed is the unbending persistence by the PRC that Taiwan is part of China. And that the PLA will use force if necessary to deter Taiwanese independence.”CONTINUE READING


Weekly round-up

China – the Morrison legacy and beyond

“Every change of government presents an opportunity for a reset. Labor has a chance to put Australia’s defence plans on a new footing and in the process send a less confrontational signal to Beijing.” Sam RoggeveenThe Interpreter (Lowy Institute)

Marvin, what do we do now?

“The idea of putting external policy – which usually does not win votes – on par with domestic imperatives will be hard for a government to digest. But it must do so. The term ‘existential threat’ has now passed from the realm of hyperbole to possible reality.” John McCarthy,Asialink Insights

Is now the time for JAUKUS?

“If Japan joined AUKUS, it would also stave off China’s (and others’) ‘Anglosphere’ criticism of the partnership. It might also go some way to reassuring South-East Asian nations ... Japan has a well-deserved reputation for being a positive and constructive partner in the region, with a history of engagement, balancing and deterrence in its relationship with China.” Mercedes Page,The Strategist (ASPI)


The Quad needs a harder edge

“The Quad is not a security alliance, nor will it become one. Unlike NATO, it is not a bloc defined by mutual security guarantees and pooled resources. But … in the face of mounting global crises, and as China increases its military presence and assertiveness across the Indo-Pacific, the Quad must develop a more robust security agenda if it seeks to sustain itself – and the region – in the coming years.” Dhruva Jaishankar & Tanvi MadanForeign Affairs

On the Pacific, the new government must be bold and go big. Here’s how the repair work could begin

“Only by providing civic education and acknowledging a troubled past can more Australians appreciate the immense debt Australia owes the Pacific island countries. This is a debt that has yet to be paid.” Patricia O’Brien,The Conversation

New from Black inc. books

The Game

Sean Kelly

What happens when the prime minister views politics as a game?

A must-read account of a man, a time and a nation.

Sean Kelly gives us the definitive portrait of Scott Morrison – a politician not quite like any other. Morrison understands that politics has become a game – one he is determined to win. He also understands something essential about Australia, something many of us are unwilling to admit, even to ourselves. But there are things Scott Morrison does not understand. This is the story of those failures, too – and of how Morrison’s approach to politics has become a dangerous more




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