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28 September 2022

With Grant Wyeth

First Nations ambassador

Last week, the Australian government announced that it was seeking applicants for an Ambassador for First Nations People to head a new Office of First Nations Engagement within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). This follows the launch of DFAT’s Indigenous Diplomacy Agenda last year, which seeks to promote norms and standards that are beneficial to indigenous peoples globally and make greater use of Australia’s Indigenous population as a diplomatic resource.

Indigenous Australians can reach communities overseas that traditional diplomacy would struggle with. They have forged strong bonds with First Nations peoples in New Zealand and Canada who have suffered similar acts of dispossession, and Australia has much to learn from the way those two countries have sought to give their indigenous populations a greater stake in their state affairs. Understanding these experiences is not only important for developing pathways to Indigenous prosperity, but also for building empathy, which is an essential diplomatic tool.

Indigenous perspectives can also enhance Australia’s broader foreign policy objectives, particularly within the Pacific. The Indigenous term “Country” refers to a complex web of traditional laws and practices, spiritual belief and relationship to the environment. It is complementary to the “Blue Pacific” – the collective concept of Pacific island countries that seeks to demonstrate their relationship and sense of responsibility towards the Pacific Ocean.

The role of Ambassador for First Nations People is not a narrow one concerned only with direct Indigenous concerns, but a new arm of Australia’s communication with the world – an arm which will enhance Australia’s reach.

China and Putin

At the United Nations General Assembly last week, Australia’s foreign minister, Penny Wong, urged China to use its influence on Russia to end the invasion of Ukraine. Wong’s view was that China, as an emerging superpower and a permanent member of the Security Council, has a responsibility to defend the principle of state sovereignty in the international system. As the only major power with friendly relations with Moscow, Beijing should play a more active role in restraining Russian president Vladimir Putin, especially after his thinly veiled threat last week of using nuclear weapons.

Beijing would not be pleased by the global economic effects of the invasion, and it has been careful not to provide any material support for Russia for fear of attracting Western sanctions. Yet it is likely that Beijing sees the Western support for Ukraine as entrenching a Western hegemony that it finds constraining. An embarrassing Russian retreat would be a victory for Western ideals and, therefore, an important ideological boost for Washington in its competition with Beijing.

While Australia may hope that Beijing could simply end the conflict with a phone call, it is unclear just how much influence China has on Russia. Beijing has economic leverage, but it would not be easy for a prideful man like Putin to submit to the direction of a more powerful force. His invasion of Ukraine was meant to create a Russian puppet state. It would be a hard pill to swallow if it ended with Russia becoming one instead.

Fossil fuel treaty

Vanuatu’s president, Nikenike Vurobaravu, used his address at the United Nations General Assembly last week to call for the establishment of a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. The treaty would create a legally binding framework to end new fossil fuel exploration and the expansion of current projects, phase out existing production in line with commitments to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and pursue an equitable transition to renewable energy.

The idea has its roots in the Suva Declaration of 2015 from the Pacific Islands Development Forum, which called for a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, especially coalmines. It was subsequently adopted by a number of academics, NGOs and activists, before the treaty was devised in 2020. The treaty has also been endorsed by the Vatican and the World Health Organization, and almost seventy cities and subnational governments around the world, including the Sydney City Council and the ACT government, as well as London, Paris, Los Angeles, Toronto and the Hawaii state legislature.

By using the language of “non-proliferation” the treaty seeks to evoke the same sense of gravity that surrounds the spread of nuclear weapons and highlight that fossil fuels have serious destructive capabilities. Vurobaravu is hoping that his advocacy will inspire other national leaders to follow, although Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, whose government released ten new sites for oil and gas exploration in August, may not be one of them.



A message from the editor

Dear reader,
We hope you have enjoyed AFA Weekly, which has been published since 2018. This will be our last issue. We will soon be announcing a new offering – please stay tuned.

Over the years, AFA Weekly has covered Australia’s evolving approach to China–US tensions, Pacific competition, COVID-19, climate change, and emerging groupings such as AUKUS and the Quad. Our first issue looked at Trump’s trade war; our last looks at plans to appoint Australia’s first Ambassador for First Nations People. An enormous thank you to AFA Weekly’s editor, Grant Wyeth, for presenting his sharp analysis of the latest global developments each week, and to his predecessor, Greg Earl.

We value your readership of AFA Weekly and would like to offer you a limited-time discount on an annual digital subscription to Australian Foreign Affairs, published three times a year. Print copies are $22.99 each – we are offering you a digital subscription for $6 per issue. Simply enter the code AFAWEEKLY50 at checkout. A digital subscription includes access to all our back issues and archives. Please note, this offer is for new subscribers only.

Our next issue, The Return of the West: Australia and the Changing World Order, will be published in October.

Thank you,
Jonathan Pearlman




Weekly round-up

Taiwan – Biden risks talking himself into a war he cannot win

“A war with China really would be World War Three. Biden has told the world that he is not willing to fight that war for Ukraine, so why would the Chinese believe that he will fight it for Taiwan?” Hugh White,The Interpreter (Lowy Institute)

Where there is a will, there is a way to repair China relations [$]

“A fluent English-speaking, highly experienced diplomat from the foreign ministry’s Asia department was sent with the task of steering the relationship back to a more constructive place. No one in Canberra seemed to notice.” Geoff Raby,Australian Financial Review

Despite progress, major challenges lie ahead for AUKUS

“The story of AUKUS – or lack of one – also poses a challenge … Canberra, London and Washington need to have explicit and uncomplicated discussions with allies and partners about what they intend the deal to accomplish more broadly.” Iain MacGillivray, Bronte Munro and Gregory Brown,The Strategist (ASPI)


How likely is the use of nuclear weapons by Russia?

“The idea behind ‘mutually assured destruction’ is that the horror and destruction from nuclear weapons is enough to deter aggressive action and war. But the application of deterrence theory to the post–Cold War realities is hotly contested and far more complicated in the era of cyberattacks which can interfere with the command and control of nuclear weapons.” Patricia Lewis,Chatham House

India at 75

“India’s future matters to Australia. Ours is a relationship which has been variously overlooked, sometimes over sold, often underdone but always shaped by an expectation of better things to come.” Peter Varghese,Asialink Insights

new from black inc. books

Humanity’s Moment

Joëlle Gergis

A personal call to action from an Australian IPCC author

When climate scientist Joëlle Gergis set to work on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, the research she encountered kept her up at night. Through countless hours spent with the world’s top scientists to piece together the latest global assessment of climate change, she realised that the impacts were occurring faster than anyone had predicted.

In Humanity’s Moment, Joëlle takes us through the science in the IPCC report with unflinching honesty, explaining what it means for our future, while sharing her personal reflections on bearing witness to the heartbreak of the climate emergency unfolding in real time. But this is not a lament for a lost world. It is an inspiring reminder that human history is an endless tug-of-war for social justice. We are each a part of an eternal evolutionary force that can transform our world.

Joëlle shows us that the solutions we need to live sustainably already exist – we just need the social movement and political will to create a better world. This book is a climate scientist’s guide to rekindling hope, and a call to action to restore our relationship with ourselves, each other and our more



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