23 February 2022
China and Ukraine
China has not been entirely silent on Ukraine, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed last week, but it has been cautious. In a speech on Saturday, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, expressed sympathy towards Moscow’s position that NATO expanding eastwards was a threat to European stability. Yet Wang also stressed that adherence to the Minsk Protocol is the best solution to ease current tensions, a position he confirmed in a phone call on Tuesday night with the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, after Russian troops moved into eastern Ukraine.
The Minsk Protocol, a series of measures agreed to by Ukraine and Russia in 2014 and 2015, was designed to end the conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, but it has been ignored by all parties.
In recent months China and Russia have deepened their relationship, but the calculations for Beijing in the Ukraine crisis are complex. China’s approach doesn’t simply involve lining up in support of Russia’s bold strategic gamble: it has not recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and in recent decades the country has drawn Central Asia – traditionally part of Russia’s sphere of influence – into its orbit. Beijing also sees itself as a burgeoning Arctic power, creating another area of tension with Russia.
Beijing would be very concerned about any war in Ukraine threatening China’s economic interests in the country, and more broadly within Europe and the United States, particularly if Western countries impose sanctions on China for any support it offers Russia.
Economic development remains the bedrock of the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy. Despite suspicion towards NATO within Chinese state media, public opinion in China recognises Russia as the aggressor in Ukraine. Potentially losing markets over an issue that the public does not support would be a major risk for Beijing to take.
Women and security
Last weekend, Foreign Minister Marise Payne attended the world’s largest foreign policy event – the Munich Security Conference – and along with her German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, co-hosted an event that brought together several of the world’s female foreign ministers to discuss the Women, Peace and Security agenda (WPS).
It has been over two decades since the United Nations Security Council launched WPS. The initiative was designed to not only make women’s voices fundamental to global security, but to have states recognise that women and girls suffer the effects of conflict disproportionately to men, and that women’s participation in peace processes often leads to more long-lasting and resilient stability.
Last year Australia launched its second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, containing a set of guidelines on how Canberra will approach conflict-affected regions. This includes supporting women’s leadership in conflict resolution, advancing female economic participation and promoting women’s roles in positions of authority, such as police officers.
Co-hosting an event with Baerbock provided a nod from Payne towards Germany’s new Feminist Foreign Policy. This is a concept devised by Sweden and is built around strengthening rights, representation and resources for women and girls, though it also involves ideas about power imbalances in international relations and the drivers of conflict.
Explicit elements of feminist foreign policy have been adopted by other countries, including Canada, Spain, Mexico, France and now Germany. Australia has not used the phrase itself but has – at least – incorporated much of the evidence, insights and ideas drawn from FFP into its development assistance programs.
Asian visa troubles
In October last year, the Australian government launched a new agricultural visa aimed at workers from Southeast Asian countries. The visa offers citizens of ASEAN’s ten member countries the ability to work in Australia for nine months each year for up to four years. However, no Southeast Asian country has yet signed up to the scheme. Only Indonesia has signed a tentative memorandum of understanding.
The visa was developed in response to the new free trade agreement between Australia and the United Kingdom, which scrapped the requirement for British backpackers to engage in eighty-eight days of agricultural labour to extend their stay. This change meant that the sector would have a shortfall of around 10,000 workers a year.
The hope was that this visa would also encourage closer ties between Australia and Southeast Asia. As remittances are a more effective development tool than aid, the visa would also assist Australia’s desire for improved living standards in the region.
Southeast Asia’s lack of enthusiasm for the visa may be due to the lessons learned from Australia’s existing scheme for workers from Pacific island countries and Timor-Leste. Consistent reports of low wages, poor conditions and substandard housing for these labourers on Australian farms may have made Southeast Asian countries wary. Despite these problems, the Pacific scheme remains popular within Pacific island countries.
There are concerns that the new visa could see workers from Pacific island countries and Timor-Leste overlooked for Southeast Asians. So, while the lack of enthusiasm for the new visa may be frustrating for farmers and the National Party, it is currently helping to avoid conflict between Australia’s foreign policy goals in the Pacific and in Southeast Asia.