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1 March 2024: The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs

This week in Australian foreign affairs: Philippine’s President Ferdinand R Marcos Jr first official visit to Australia; statement on death of Alexei Navalny; Ukraine; Australian-Pacific Rugby Union Partnership, and more.

On 29 February, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed the President of the Republic of the Philippines, Ferdinand R Marcos Jr and First Lady Louise Araneta-Marcos to Canberra February for their first official visit to Australia. In a speech at Parliament House, Albanese called the visit “an historic occasion for both our democracies,” remarking that “[i]t is also the natural next step in our nations’ growing partnership” which is now 78 years old. During the day Albanese and Marco Jr signed a “Memorandum of Understanding for Enhanced Maritime Cooperation” to “collaborate even more closely to promote our shared vision for the region, including in civil maritime security, marine environment protection, maritime domain awareness and promoting respect for international law.” The two leaders agreed “to new initiatives in the key areas of digital technology and cybersecurity.”

On 28 February, Albanese was pressed on ABC News Breakfast on whether the government would consider to gift Ukraine Abrams tanks. Albanese reiterated Australia’s “additional $50 million in support for the effort in Ukraine” just recently, noting further that Australia was “one of the world’s largest non-NATO contributors to the struggle of the Ukrainian people in defence of their national sovereignty.” Albanese stated that Australia will “continue to provide support for as long as it takes.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles issued a joint media release on 26 February with Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts announcing new “Magnitsky-style targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on seven prison officials involved in the mistreatment of Alexei Navalny.” The statement noted that “the Australian Government is deeply shocked and saddened by the death of Mr Navalny,” further highlighting that “these sanctions are the next step in Australia’s efforts to hold to account those responsible for grave breaches of Mr Navalny’s human rights.” The Australian government “will continue to work closely with our partners to hold the Russian Government and all involved in Mr Navalny’s death accountable.” The first in a list of Magnitsky-style human rights sanctions was announced on 10 December 2022, and included individuals involved in the 2020 poisoning of Mr Navalny.

On 25 February, Marles issued a joint statement with  leaders of Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and United States on additional strikes against the Houthis in Yemen. The 18 targets were included “Houthi underground weapons storage facilities, missile storage facilities, one-way attack unmanned aerial systems, air defense systems, radars, and a helicopter.” These strikes were in response to ongoing attacks against commercial and naval vessels, including a 22 February “missile attack that struck the United Kingdom-owned M/V Islander and injured a crewmember,” the 19 February attack “that nearly struck the U.S.-owned M/V Sea Champion while delivering humanitarian aid to Yemen,” the 19 February “UAV attack that struck the U.S.-owned M/V Navis Fortuna, and the 18 February attack that struck the United Kingdom-owned M/V Rubymar and forced the crew to abandon the ship.”

Australia will send an additional six military personnel to the Red Sea to support allied forces fighting the Houthi rebels. These troops will assist US and UK strikes on Houthi positions in Yemen. Marles noted that Australia currently has 16 people at the combined maritime forces headquarters in Bahrain.

Marles joined Indonesian Defence Minister and President-elect Prabowo Subianto on 24 February in a joint press conference to discuss the Australia-Indonesia Defence Cooperation Agreement. Both nations “are hopeful of being in a position to sign agreement within the next few months.” This marks the third visit by Marles to Indonesia in ten months.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong issued a joint media release with Watts on 24 February commemorating Australia’s stance with Ukraine, which has now marked two years since Russia’s invasion. The release stated that “Australia remains steadfast in supporting Ukraine to defend itself, and to holding those responsible for Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion to account.” Also during the day, the Australian Government announced it had “imposed further targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on 55 persons, and targeted financial sanctions on 37 entities.” This brings the number of sanctions in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine to 1,200. Meanwhile, Australia’s overall support to Ukraine has reached AUD$960 million, including $780 million in military support.

Also on 24 February, Wong issued a joint media release with the Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell reiterating “Australian support for our region’s trade and development.” This came ahead of the 13th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference, and the government’s announcement of more than AUD$20 million to support regional trade and development needs. The additional funding will support capacity building in e-commerce and digital economic, trade financing, enhancing intellectual property systems, and “identifying ways trade can bolster national climate adaptation plans.” Australia will also “provide $10.3 million to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Office in Geneva to support its WTO engagement.”

Farrell issued a joint media statement on 26 February with Assistant Minister for Trade Tim Ayres welcoming Ukraine as a full member of the Cairns Group, “a coalition of 20 agricultural fair-trading countries, which together account for almost a third of global agricultural exports.” At the upcoming WTO meeting, “the Cairns Group will push for a concrete and equitable outcome that will improve global agricultural trade, including in ways that will support the food security needs of the most vulnerable countries.” The ministers of also “welcomed the appointment of Thailand as the Group’s first rotating Vice Chair.”

The Australian Government has teamed up with Rugby Australia for a AUD$14 million Australian-Pacific Rugby Union Partnership, announced the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, and Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy in a joint media release with Rugby Australia on 27 February. The partnership will lead a four-year $14.2 million investment “to support high-performance Rugby Union across the Pacific through the Australian-Pacific Rugby Union Partnership (APRUP), bringing the region closer together through a shared love of rugby.”

Dr Adam Bartley is the managing editor for AIIA’s Australian Outlook and weekly columnist for The Week in Australian Foreign Affairs. He is a former Fulbright Scholar and resident fellow at the Elliot School for International Affairs, the George Washington University. Adam also has positions as post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Cyber Security Research and Innovation RMIT University  and as program manager of the AI Trilateral Experts Group. He can be found on Twitter here.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.

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