25 May 2022
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.
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.