Payne and Reynolds leave Washington with key ‘wins’ — and room to disagree with US on China

Alexander Drago/AP

Rowan Callick, Griffith University

This week’s annual Australia-US ministerial (AUSMIN) talks took place within the fraught context of a world growing in enmity and anxiety — but no longer economically.

The US ambassador to Australia, Arthur Culvahouse Jr, described it as

one of the most consequential AUSMIN meetings in decades.

Certainly, the Australian team went to unusual lengths to participate. Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, Defence Force Chief General Angus Campbell and their teams will all have to quarantine for 14 days on their return to Australia.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted the commitment to travel to the US during the coronavirus pandemic, saying

not many partners will do that for us.

That effort appears to have been acknowledged in the comparative weight of Australian concerns and priorities in the statement released today following the talks.

Euan Graham, a senior fellow for Asia-Pacific security at International Institute for Strategic Studies, told me this bears the stamp of “pretty proactive drafting from the Australian side”.

The statement reflects broader interests than in previous AUSMIN talks — including a strong section on COVID-19 — and omits any mention of the Middle East. Instead, it focuses heavily on the Indo-Pacific region — Australia’s region.

To satisfy the US side in return, China is named-and-shamed considerably more than what is usual for the Morrison government. Concerns about the fate of Hong Kong under its new National Security Law and of the Uyghurs in China’s western Xinjiang region are spelled out strongly in the statement.

Read more:
Explainer: why is the South China Sea such a hotly contested region?

Australia and the US ‘don’t agree on everything’

Payne stressed after the talks that while Canberra and Washington share many values,

We don’t agree on everything. We are very different countries. We are very different systems, and it’s the points on which we disagree that we should be able to articulate in a mature and sensible way.

She also emphasised the importance of Australia’s relationship with China, saying

we have no intention of injuring it, but nor do we intend to do things that are contrary to our interests, and that is the premise from which we begin.

Of course, this comes days after Australia’s strongest statement yet on the legality of China’s effective annexation of the South China Sea — a declaration that drew a rebuke from China’s Foreign Ministry.

But the Washington talks did not see Australia take the further step the US has sought, to support its freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) by sailing within the 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands China claims in the sea.

This may have reflected a reluctance to embark on a striking new military direction with a US administration that may be replaced in January.

Australia will continue to sail naval vessels through the South China Sea, including in collaboration with the US Navy.

This move is supported by the Labor opposition, with defence spokesman Richard Marles saying it reflects “core national interests”. Some 60% of Australian seaborne trade passes through the area.

Graham, however, says he would be “super-surprised” if the Australians pursued a FONOP on their own, though less surprised, if they did with a flotilla of other countries’ navies.

Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Clive Hamilton and Richard McGregor on Australia-China relations

Alliance shifts in focus to Australia’s concerns

The US team indicated its approval of the recently announced A$270 billion upgrade of Australia’s defence force – a shift in line with the Trump administration’s urging of US allies to become more self-reliant.

Morrison framed this upgrade within three aims: to more effectively shape the strategic environment, deter actions against Australian interests and respond with credible force when needed.

This also reflects, Graham says, a broader move to refocus Australian defence towards Southeast Asia, the Pacific and India.

The outstanding exception to this new focus, as reflected in the AUSMIN talks, is Taiwan.

The self-governing island is perceived to be coming under more imminent threat from Beijing, which claims it as its territory. The US and Australia affirmed Taiwan’s “important role in the Indo-Pacific region” and indicated their support for its membership in international organisations.

Rather than reflecting a hard defence and security focus, though, the AUSMIN statement prioritised the global response to COVID-19.

Graham believes this is “an Australian win” since the US has lagged in global leadership on the pandemic. The new funding pledged for post-COVID recovery in the Pacific is not massive — but the elevation of health concerns indicated this will now become more central to global security.

Read more:
Payne and Reynolds need to tread carefully in Washington as US turns up the heat on China

Overall, the talks indicate that as American concerns about the China challenge rise — among Democrats as well as Republicans — the Indo-Pacific is becoming ever more important, with Australia providing a crucial southern anchor for potential US force deployment.

They also make clear that while the US-Australia alliance remains rock-solid, Canberra will continue to plot its own course. It will approach issues like China trade, relations with the World Health Organisation and other multilateral agencies, and climate change in a strikingly different manner from the US.

Beijing, for its part, will continue to portray Canberra as an American “lapdog”, while at the same time seeking to do what it can to prise the alliance apart.

But this rhetoric is failing to win any policy traction, despite the instability of the Trump White House. Nor is China’s “deep freeze” of Australia. As Morrison has said, he’s “not waiting by the phone” for an invitation to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

This week, Chile reportedly chose Japan — not China — to build the first fibre-optic cable connecting South America with the Indo-Pacific, following the completion of a submarine cable between Japan and Australia this month.

All are members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump quit soon after his inauguration.

Such moves underline — as does the AUSMIN statement — the growing complexity and challenges of the post-coronavirus world, not only for Washington but also for Beijing.The Conversation

Rowan Callick, Industry Fellow, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Foreign Minister Payne pledges continued fight against Chinese ‘disinformation’

Joel Carrett/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has attacked China’s “disinformation” about racism in this country and committed Australia to a more activist role in pressing for reform of multilateral institutions, including the World Health Organisation.

In a Tuesday night speech titled “Australia and the world in the time of COVID-19”, Payne rebutted criticism of the Morrison government for getting out in front of other countries in pushing for an inquiry into the origins and handling of COVID.

“We can be small in our thinking, timid in purpose and risk averse. Alternatively …we can be confident, believe in Australia’s role in the world and prioritise Australia’s sovereignty – and Australians’ long term interests – by making the difficult decisions and choices,” she said.

Payne condemned countries using COVID “to undermine liberal democracy and promote their own, more authoritarian models.”

“I have also been very clear in rejecting as disinformation the Chinese government’s warnings that tourists and students should reconsider coming here because of the risk of racism.

“I can say emphatically that Australia will welcome students and visitors from all over the world, regardless of race, gender or nationality,” she said, adding that law enforcement agencies would deal with individual crimes.

“The disinformation we have seen contributes to a climate of fear and division when what we need is cooperation and understanding.

“Australia will resist and counter efforts at disinformation. We will do so through facts and transparency, underpinned by liberal democratic values that we will continue to promote at home and abroad.”

Payne said a foreign affairs department audit of Australia’s engagement in multilateral institutions, commissioned by Scott Morrison last year, had recognised the limitations of these bodies. But “Australia’s interests would not be served by stepping away and leaving others to shape the global order for us”.

“We must stand up for our values and bring our influence to bear in these institutions to protect and promote our national interests, and to preserve the open character of international institutions based on universal values and transparency.

“Australia will continue to work to ensure global institutions are fit-for-purpose, relevant and contemporary, accountable to member states, free from undue influence, and have an appropriately strong focus on the Indo-Pacific.

“We will continue to support reform efforts in the United Nations and its agencies to improve transparency, accountability and effectiveness. This is foreign policy designed to use Australian agency and influence to shape a safer world and make us safer at home.”

On the World Health Organisation, she said, “Through our role on the WHO executive board, and proactive participation in a range of regional and global health forums, Australia will present tangible proposals and initiatives to ensure that the global health architecture emerges stronger from Covid-19.”

In general, Australia would direct its efforts to preserving three fundamental parts of the multilateral system:

  • rules protecting sovereignty and peace and enabling international trade and investment

  • international standards on health, transport, telecommunications and other matters underpinning the global economy

  • norms underpinning universal human rights, gender equality and the rule of law.

“We will work to ensure that the development of new rules and norms to address emerging challenges is consistent with enduring values and principles. This is particularly important in the case of critical technologies, including cyber and artificial intelligence, and critical minerals and outer space.”

“Effective multilateralism, conducted through strong and transparent institutions, serves Australia’s interests,” Payne said.

“Our challenge is to ensure the institutions, and our active engagement, delivers for Australia and for Australians. To do this, Australia must better target our role in the global system.

“Australia’s role in seeking an independent review of COVID-19 is a prime example of this active engagement in the national interest,” she said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia and China push the ‘reset’ button on an important relationship

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Australia can thank an erratic Donald Trump for the opportunity to “reset” its relationship with China after a chill engendered by what was interpreted as criticism from the then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and foreign minister, Julie Bishop.

Turnbull had caused offence with his criticism of Chinese interference in Australian politics via Beijing’s front organisations. And in March 2017, Bishop had questioned China’s political model in a speech in Singapore.

A reset was already in the works before Turnbull was felled in August in a palace coup. The two countries had been reassessing shared interests in light of the wrecking ball US President Trump has taken to an international rules-based system.

Read more:
Morrison and Shorten reveal their positions on key foreign policy questions

Former treasurer and new Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s elevation of Marise Payne to replace Bishop provided a pretext for an important diplomatic engagement in Beijing in the lead-up to what is being called the “summit season”.

This interaction may well have happened anyway, but a changing of the guard in Canberra helped get over any “face issues” that might have lingered after fairly trenchant criticism of Australia in Chinese official mouthpiece publications.

Payne’s arrival in the Chinese capital ahead of an East Asia Summit in Singapore, an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Port Moresby, and a G20 summit in Buenos Aires this month is not a coincidence.

Her presence in Beijing for the fifth Australia-China Foreign and Strategic Dialogue is the first visit by an Australian foreign minister in nearly three years.

After putting Australia in the freezer, Beijing has enabled a thaw ahead of these important events at which America’s behaviour will be under scrutiny, if not censure.

Beijing’s emollient words at a meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Payne could have hardly contrasted more sharply with criticism expressed over the past several years as debate about foreign interference disrupted the relationship.

This is what Wang had to say about a reset:

We are ready to step up our strategic dialogue and deepen strategic cooperation … in particular, rebuild and cement our political mutual trust.

These are Chinese diplomatic buzzwords, with an emphasis on “mutual trust”.

Payne described her two hours of talks – which ran overtime – as a “full and candid discussion”. Australia and China had agreed on a “respectful relationship”.

Pointedly, Wang had referred to a “new government” in Canberra, as if to say that a change of management had enabled a thaw.

Read more:
The risks of a new Cold War between the US and China are real: here’s why

China’s conduct of its foreign policy, in which it alternately rewards and penalises those who fall out of favour, in some ways resembles a Beijing opera.

Melodrama is intrinsic to this Chinese art form.

China’s invitation to Payne for a long-delayed strategic dialogue is a calculated diplomatic move. It’s one that also suits Australia, anxious to gets its diplomatic relationship with China back on track.

It is in neither country’s interests – certainly not Australia’s – for an estrangement to persist at a time when uncertainty prevails due to an unpredictable American presidency.

Concerns in Beijing and Canberra about preserving open markets when American protectionism is threatening a liberalising trading environment have prompted this reset and determined its timing.

Beyond that, Canberra appears to have resolved that Australia’s interests are not well served by allowing an Australian security establishment possessed of a certain anti-China mindset to tilt policy in directions that do not serve the national interest.

It is one thing to exhibit scepticism about China’s behaviour and motivations. It is quite another to allow a “reds under the bed” mentality to drive policy.

No-one with more than passing knowledge believes China is a benign power. But nor is it the enemy. Its rise is a fact of life, whether Australian policymakers in thrall to a security establishment like it or not.

Interestingly, China sought to allay Australia’s concerns about its push into the southwest Pacific by offering “trilateral cooperation” in assisting Pacific island states build their infrastructure.

How this would work practically is not clear. But Wang appeared to be suggesting that Australia’s newly announced infrastructure fund for the Pacific could participate in joint projects with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Australia and China are not competitors, not rivals but cooperation partners, and we have agreed to combine and capitalise on our respective strengths to carry out trilateral cooperation involving Pacific Island states.

Significantly, Australia’s announcement on the eve of the Wang-Payne meeting that Canberra was blocking the takeover of the APA Group by Hong Kong’s CK Group on competition grounds was not an impediment to improving ties.

Pragmatism prevailed. “We hope a single case won’t affect Australia’s attitude to investment,” Wang said.

Payne’s visit took place against the background of overtures to China begun by Turnbull and Bishop in their efforts to restore certainty to the relationship.

A speech by Morrison to the Asia Society last week, in which he spoke of the importance of the Australia-China relationship, provided further impetus for a reset, propelled to a certain extent by Washington.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With Bishop gone, Morrison and Payne face significant challenges on foreign policy

File 20180828 75972 ph4bm8.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Morrison will need to rely heavily on the experience of his new foreign minister, Marise Payne, and deputy leader, Josh Frydenberg.
Andrew Taylor/AAP

Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University

With all the focus this week on new Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s domestic challenges, less attention has been paid to the international impact of the leadership change and any new directions for Australian foreign policy.

Morrison’s foreign policy credentials are slim and his interest in foreign policy is low, not rating even a mention in his first speech to the nation as PM.

As immigration minister, Morrison presided over the “stop the boats” policy that was so unpopular with Australia’s neighbours and negotiated the disastrous and expensive Cambodia asylum deal. He may also be perceived by Muslim-majority nations as unfriendly to Muslims after the 2011 shadow cabinet leak that he urged his party to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about immigration and Muslims in Australia.

Read more:
Julie Bishop goes to backbench, Marise Payne becomes new foreign minister

It is therefore a good idea indeed that Morrison will make his first trip overseas as prime minister this week to Jakarta to hasten the Australia and Indonesia free-trade agreement and shore up one of our country’s most crucial relationships.

There are other big trips he’ll need to make quick decisions about. Morrison has already decided not to attend the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru next week, sending his new foreign minister, Marise Payne, instead.

After that, there’s the UN General Assembly in New York (24 Sept), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea (12 Nov), the East Asia Summit in Singapore (14 Nov) and the G20 summit in Buenos Aires (30 Nov). An Australian PM would usually attend all of these, although the Coalition has often sent the foreign minister to the UN.

New leader, same foreign policy outlook

In many ways, Morrison’s foreign policy positions are unlikely to be different from Malcolm Turnbull’s. He will likely be perceived as friendly to the US and unfriendly to China on foreign investment, but a realist and pro-free trade. Morrison made a dramatic intervention in 2016 to block Chinese companies from bidding for the NSW electricity distributor, Ausgrid, on national security grounds.

As acting home affairs minister last week, Morrison also announced the government’s decision to effectively ban Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from participating in Australia’s new 5G mobile phone networks. In reality, though, the Turnbull reset on the China relationship is likely to continue, as guided by the Foreign Policy White Paper.

Read more:
Julie Bishop shows the boys how it’s done

The leadership change was not predicated on policy disagreements, with the exception of different ideologies on climate change. The change was rather more personality-driven, a question of style. But style – and leaders – matter in diplomacy.

Many foreign policy experts have been distraught by the damage done to Australia’s international reputation by such disruptive spills, and how external messaging on good governance will be undermined.

Julie Bishop had a contentious relationship with China at times, but was largely seen as a stable presence in foreign affairs.
Rouelle Umali/EPA

The big loss here is Julie Bishop, who has been a point of stability and continuity for Australia’s international partners since 2009, when she became shadow foreign minister. The sudden, inexplicable loss of both Turnbull and Bishop will be hard for our allies (and most Australians) to understand.

Bishop will be remembered for her path-breaking role as the first female foreign minister and first female secretary of DFAT. Her legacy also includes the New Colombo Plan, her push for e-diplomacy and her passionate quest for justice for the victims of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

She did face criticism – as did the Coalition more broadly – for the inability or unwillingness to defend the aid budget from deep cuts, an asylum seeker policy that affected our international reputation, and an unwillingness to speak out on human rights, such as against Myanmar’s leaders.

Morrison’s support team

Bishop’s loss is ameliorated by two factors – the appointment of Payne and the influence of Josh Frydenberg in the leadership team.

Frydenberg, the new deputy Liberal leader and treasurer, has a strong interest and inclination for foreign policy, having worked for former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. He was very active in the Brisbane G20 Summit in 2014. He is even a published author on the liberal tradition in Australian foreign policy.

Frydenberg’s maiden speech contained a particularly beautiful narrative about how his family suffered during the Holocaust in Europe and later emigrated to Australia.

Like so many other immigrants to our great shores, all of my grandparents came here with nothing. … The welcome my family received and the opportunities and freedom they enjoyed is for me the essence of what makes Australia great.

Josh Frydenberg at his swearing-in last week.
Lukas Coch/AAP

The G20 Summit in Argentina in November is the best opportunity for Morrison and Frydenberg to shine in the international sphere. Given his newly-elevated platform at the summit, Morrison may have to moderate his constant criticism of “the new romantics of protectionism” and dislike of the World Trade Organisation. Morrison and Frydenberg should also pay heed to the difficult negotiations around the Australia-EU free-trade agreement.

Read more:
2017 Foreign Policy White Paper finally acknowledges world power is shifting

Payne’s appointment as foreign minister is also seen as a positive, as is Simon Birmingham’s elevation to trade minister. Both are hardworking, reasonable politicians from the moderate wing of the Liberal party who can manage stakeholders well. Hopefully, they will have time before the next election to bring their own style to the positions.

Mark Coulton remains assistant minister for trade, tourism and investment. He has yet to make much impact since being appointed in March, but has a welcome focus on Papua New Guinea, host of APEC.

Anne Ruston has been appointed assistant minister for international development and the Pacific. She has voted in the past against increases in foreign aid and has limited experience in the region. She should follow the example of Richard Marles, who did exemplary work in this portfolio, garnering respect in the Pacific. This role could become more difficult with Morrison deciding not to attend the Pacific Islands Forum.

Morrison should rely on Payne and Birmingham to manage Australia’s foreign policy and pay special attention to rebuilding our reputation for good governance. There is hard work to be done, and little time to do it.The Conversation

Susan Harris Rimmer, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Griffith Law School, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Julie Bishop goes to backbench, Marise Payne becomes new foreign minister

File 20180826 149487 1avqe0.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
After five years as foreign minister, Julie Bishop will move to the backbench.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Julie Bishop has chosen to go to the backbench, to be succeeded by Marise Payne as foreign minister, and the energy and environment portfolio has been split, in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ministry announced Sunday.

Dan Tehan replaces Simon Birmingham in education, in a gesture to the Catholic education sector ahead of a special deal to meet its trenchant criticisms of the government’s schools policy.

Bishop, 62, who won only a handful of votes in the leadership ballot after the “stop Dutton” forces rallied behind Morrison, said in a statement she had told Morrison “I will be resigning from my cabinet position as Minister for Foreign Affairs.” She said she had made no decision about whether she would contest the election.

Unveiling an extensive reshuffle, Morrison described his ministry as a “next generation team”. He has rewarded his supporters but also accommodated some Peter Dutton loyalists.

Energy goes to former businessman the conservative Angus Taylor, previously minister for law enforcement and cyber security, who moves into cabinet. Morrison dubbed Taylor as minister for “getting electricity prices down”.

Environment is taken by Melissa Price, previously assistant minister for the environment. The portfolio remains in cabinet.

Asked where the carve up left emissions, Morrison made clear where his priorities lay, saying the challenge in energy was reliability and dispatchable power.

Peter Dutton, the man who launched the leadership coup though failed to win the prime ministership, returns to his portfolio of home affairs. But immigration has been sliced off, going to David Coleman, previously assistant minister for finance, who becomes minister for immigration, citizenship and multicultural affairs.

This flags Morrison’s interest in the economic side of immigration. “Immigration forms part of national security policy but it also has always played an important role in economic and social policy,” he said.

Christopher Pyne becomes defence minister, achieving his long-time wish to be the senior minister in the area; his old job of defence industry goes to Steve Ciobo, who was previously in trade. Birmingham takes his place in trade.

The Morrison cabinet has six women, one extra compared with the Turnbull cabinet. They are Bridget McKenzie (Nat), Payne, Kelly O’Dwyer, Michaelia Cash, Karen Andrews, and Melissa Price.

O’Dwyer moves from revenue to jobs and industrial relations; she keeps responsibility for women. Industrial relations is back in cabinet. Michaelia Cash has gone into small and family business, skills and vocations.

Alan Tudge becomes minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population. Morrison said Tudge would be “the minister for congestion-busting”. Population has become an increasing pressure point.

Mathias Cormann remains in finance and as Senate leader, but his special minister of state job goes to Alex Hawke.

Paul Fletcher will be social services minister and moves into cabinet.

Sussan Ley and Stuart Robert, who both had to leave the ministry over controversies, are back on the frontbench. Robert is assistant treasurer; Ley is assistant minister for regional development and territories.

Michael Sukkar, previously assistant minister to the treasurer and outspoken conservative, has been dumped to the backbench.

Barnaby Joyce, still on the backbench, has been made “special envoy for drought assistance and recovery”.

Tony Abbott has not been given a job, although Morrison signalled he was open to giving him some Joyce-type role if he wanted.

Two Liberals apart from Julie Bishop, and a National, indicated they did not want to be considered for frontbench roles. The Liberals were Craig Laundy and John McVeigh, while the National was Keith Pitt, who had been assistant to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Pitt said in a statement: “I will always put the national interest and the interests of my constituents above my own. I will always put reducing power prices, before Paris.”

Morrison acknowledged at the weekend that ordinary people had been “absolutely disgusted” by the events of last week.

The exit of Bishop, who had developed a high and well-respected international profile, will send a further confusing message to other countries, which have witnessed Australia’s revolving door of the prime ministership.

Bishop, who entered parliament in 1998, has been foreign minister since 2013 and deputy to every Liberal leader since 2007.

In the aftermath of the coup, the bitterness continued to flow as the machinations were revealed.

A WhatsApp chain of messages was leaked to the ABC, in which tactics to stop Dutton ultimately winning, were revealed.

Fletcher, close to Turnbull, said in the chain: “Cormann rumoured to be putting some WA votes behind Julie Bishop in round 1. Be aware that this is a ruse trying to get her ahead of Morrison so he drops out & his votes go to Dutton. Despite our hearts tugging us to Julie we need to vote with our heads for Scott in round one.”

Cormann describes the Fletcher claim as “100% incorrect”.

Birmingham, a strong Turnbull supporter, told the ABC that a “handful of individuals” had wreaked havoc.

“We had Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership confirmed and re-endorsed just last Tuesday with a clear majority, and yet those who wanted to wreak havoc continued to do so during the week. Now, that was terribly destructive and every single man and woman in the Liberal Party room needs to put that type of behaviour behind us and make sure that we do unify for the future.”

On Monday, Morrison, who has put the drought at the top of his priority list, will make a quick trip to a drought-afflicted part of Queensland. At the weekend he met Major General Stephen Day, who is coordinating drought relief and support

Drought was “the thing that I think Australians very much want the attention of their prime minister on and right now”, Morrison told the popular regional program Australia All Over. Morrison reeled off some “encouraging” weekend rainfall numbers while noting this was “nowhere near what’s obviously needed.”

Over the weekend, the new prime minister spoke with US President Donald Trump (inviting him to visit Australia), Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

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The Conversation

Later this week Morrison will visit Indonesia, but he will not undertake the visits to multiple regional countries that Turnbull had slotted in. Australia and Indonesia have been negotiating a free trade deal, which could be signed during the visit.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.