Australia reshapes foreign policy in new era

By Han Feng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/9 12:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Australia is calling home its envoys from 113 missions worldwide as it is working on a white paper to guide the reshaping of its foreign policy for the next decade.

The previous document of this kind was released in 2003 during then prime minister John Howard's administration, mainly focusing on regional cooperation in the post-Asian economic crisis era and the global war on terror in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Since the Australian Labor Party came into power in 2007, it started combining the white papers of diplomacy and defense into a single comprehensive report but ended up in failure. Eventually, two defense white papers were issued during the tenures of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard respectively. The Liberal-National coalition formulated a new white paper on defense in early 2016, but the foreign policy white paper remained unchanged.

Over the past 14 years, the world has taken on numerous vicissitudes. It has become an urgent task for Canberra to adjust its foreign policy.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement, "at a time of significant global uncertainty, it is vital that Australia harness the experience and intellect of our most senior diplomats."

Currently, the new version of the foreign policy white paper has just taken shape. Expert opinions have been solicited from home and abroad since the end of 2016 and revisions were made accordingly. But, it is the first time that all of its ambassadors were called to participate in the reset of the country's diplomacy.

To this end, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs adjusted its budget by cutting down on international conference to ensure all envoys return for the important meeting later this month.

It is apparent that the new white paper on diplomacy is of extreme significance.

A myriad of tremendous changes in the international community have led to a revamp and even reconfiguration of foreign policy ideas and frameworks of all nations. Though the previous paper also came from the Liberal-National coalition, the new one aims to bring an overhaul to the country's diplomatic architecture and guide its foreign policy for a longer term.

Since the coalition won the federal election and in particular, during the white paper-drafting process, a series of changes have taken place around the globe, including the recession in the European integration process, US domestic and international chaos caused by Donald Trump entering the White House, as well as the adjustment in the relations among Asia-Pacific countries. The new document also needs to change and keep up with the times.

Apart from calling the ambassadors back to discuss the draft of the new white paper, Canberra will also ask them to inspect agricultural districts and underdeveloped regions, which will be a key area for development in the country's diplomacy. It is anticipated that the new paper will help promote the growth of these regions through international cooperation.

In conclusion, the recall of all its ambassadors for a meeting to mull over a drafted document is indeed a rare maneuver in Australia's history. The John Howard administration once launched a massive discussion on national defense policies over East Timor's independence in 2002, which helped improve the Australian army's capacity and increase the country's military expenditure.

Malcolm Turnbull's government has been underlining the stability of regional orders and construction of mechanisms; building the medium-powers' partnership among Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia, known as MIKTA which was founded in 2013; participating in global governance via its membership in G20, and developing relations with important nations in the Asia-Pacific region including India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and China.

All these moves indicate that the country is embarking on a more independent and practical development path in foreign policy.

The author is a research fellow with the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Follow us on Twitter at @GTopinion


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