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6 July 2022

With Grant Wyeth

Albanese in Ukraine


Following Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s trip to Spain for the NATO summit, and a visit to Paris to mend relations with France, he made an unannounced stop in Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky. Visits by leaders to Ukraine to demonstrate solidarity with the besieged nation have become an important feature of the war, especially as these leaders are unable to intervene directly due to the risk of escalation.

At a press conference with Zelensky, Albanese announced a further $100 million in military support for Ukraine, including fourteen more armoured personnel carriers, twenty more Bushmaster Infantry Mobility Vehicles, as well as a number of drones. This will bring Australia’s total military assistance to Ukraine to $388 million – the most of any non-NATO country – as well as $65 million in humanitarian aid, alongside resettling around 3000 Ukrainian refugees. Albanese has stated that Canberra will also remove tariffs on all Ukrainian imports to Australia and support Ukraine’s International Court of Justice case against Russia.

Australia’s support reflects a recognition that, as a country of significant resources, it has a moral duty to help. The war also has local implications, as a potential global food crisis stemming from Russia’s blockage of Ukrainian wheat exports may ferment instability in South-East Asia. But Canberra also clearly has one eye on China and what it may learn from Russia’s invasion. Beijing may not read the invasion as an overall folly, but instead as a lesson to be far more prepared if it decides to pursue its own designs on Taiwan.

New Colombo Plan

During a speech in Kuala Lumpur last week, foreign minister Penny Wong used her personal background as a central element of her diplomatic outreach. Wong highlighted how her Malaysian father had been a recipient of a Colombo Plan scholarship to study in Adelaide, where he met her mother. The couple then returned to Malaysia, where Wong spent the first eight years of her life.

Devised in the early 1950s, the Colombo Plan was created as an aid and development program to educate and train a generation of Asian political and business leaders. The plan’s secondary function was to encourage these students to return to their home countries with a sympathetic view of Australia, enhancing Australia’s foreign policy goals throughout Asia as many of these students gained positions of influence. 

In 2014, the Abbott government created the New Colombo Plan, an initiative that flipped the framework. Instead of training young Asians, Australia would send its own students into Asian universities and workplaces to enhance their literacy of host countries and develop networks. The New Colombo Plan is built on the premise that Australia has much to learn from its neighbours, rather than its neighbours learning solely from it.

Wong’s speech in Kuala Lumpur was designed to demonstrate that these programs can form intimate bridges between countries. Wong herself represents an increasing bicultural reality within Australia, which is an important element of her role as foreign minister.

Taiwan’s Pacific roots

At last week’s United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, China blocked several Taiwanese representatives from attending as part of Palau’s and Tuvalu’s delegations. Tuvalu’s foreign minister, Simon Kofe, withdrew from the conference in protest – a significant action, given how important international cooperation on the world’s oceans is to Pacific island countries.

Palau and Tuvalu are two of the four Pacific island countries that recognise Taiwan, rather than China. This recognition is often depicted as an opportunistic diplomatic strategy, but these countries have strong ethnic, cultural and linguistic links to Taiwan’s own indigenous population.

Taiwan’s indigenous groups have inhabited the island for at least 5500 years, and currently number around 530,000 people, or 2.3 per cent of the population. The languages these groups speak are of the Austronesian language family which extends through the Pacific. Taiwan is generally considered by linguists to be the origin point of this language family, which gives it a critical story with which to develop a cultural identity distinct from China.

In 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen offered a formal apology to indigenous groups for centuries of mistreatment after Han Chinese migration to the island, and her government has sought greater promotion of indigenous languages and culture. This outreach, aside from being ethically motivated, has also become a key pillar of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, with increased cultural exchanges between Taiwan and Micronesian countries, and an attempt to restore the Austronesian Forum, initially devised by Palau in 2006. 

Tuvalu and Palau clearly value these connections and felt that Taiwan, as an island, should be an invested and important participant in the Ocean Conference. Yet these connections continue to be perceived as threats by Beijing.



From AFA10: FRIENDS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES

A free extract from “Goodbye, America” by Patrick Lawrence

“In March 2020, what the US Defense Department now calls its Indo-Pacific Command asked Congress for slightly more than US$20 billion to cover a six-year expansion of its operations across East Asia. Congress had invited the Pentagon’s request, effectively saying, ‘You need more money. Ask and you shall receive.’ Few questioned this course.

This is all about China, to state the obvious. More to the point, it is about prolonging American primacy in the Pacific as the People’s Republic emerges as a regional and global power. This is a forlorn project by any balanced reckoning. Yes, America will remain a Pacific power. No, it can no longer presume pre-eminence. The compulsion to insist otherwise arises out of longing for the once-was, anxiety in the face of change and an appallingly poor grasp of China’s aspirations and intentions.”CONTINUE READING

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Weekly round-up

The international prime minister

“Even in our most active period of external endeavour – essentially the late eighties until the late nineties – the big decisions on our security were made in Washington. We have bathed in the reassuring waters of an alliance with the most powerful country in the world. We now have to think beyond that comforting bond.” John McCarthy,asialink insights

What would a First Nations foreign policy look like?

“The Indigenous Diplomacy Agenda is about shaping the international system by understanding how states distribute power to Indigenous groups, how Australia’s diplomatic network can shape the international system to benefit Indigenous peoples economically and politically, and how Indigenous knowledge and ways of relating with others can be incorporated into Australia’s relations with other nations.” Huon Curtis & Blake Johnson,the strategist (aspi)

China’s influence hard to ignore in Solomon Islands’ capital Honiara, as Australia warned it could be “left behind”

“One local prominent business owner … said there was a danger Australia would be ‘left behind’ for China, which was Solomon Islands number one trading partner, unless it became more active in addressing issues such as increasing trade, youth unemployment and visa issues.” Nick Sas,abc news

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RCEP shows that open regionalism still calls the shots

“Canberra enthusiastically touts deals that have obvious potential to diversify trade away from China … yet the most significant agreement will see Australia more tightly integrated into an East Asian system with China further entrenched as its centre of gravity.” James Laurenceson,East Asia Forum

Sri Lanka scrambles for aid – but Australia still seems preoccupied by boats

“Australia’s priority is ‘supporting Sri Lanka’s efforts to strengthen its border management capacity’, according to a statement from the Australian high commission in Colombo. The [new Fisheries Monitoring Centre] continues Australia’s historical disregard for the plight of people seeking asylum outside Sri Lanka.” Niro Kandasamy,the conversation

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