Australia's Foreign Policy:Advancing Our National Interests

Speech by the Hon Alexander Downer, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the Joint Services Staff College, Canberra, 5 March 1998.


Introduction

. I am delighted to be at the Joint Services Staff College again, and to have the opportunity to speak to you.

- I note that military officer students from a diverse range of countries have joined the Australian contingent for this course, not just from Australia's immediate neighbourhood but further afield -
: The UK, the Philippines,Fiji, Singapore, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand.

- There is no better demonstration of the value of Australia's people-to-people links with the region and the rest of the world than your participation in the life and work of the college.

. There have been major developments in the Asia Pacific since I spoke at the College twelve months ago - not least the onset of economic difficulties which are testing the flexibility and durability of the region's governments and institutions.

. But there have also been several landmarks in Australia's foreign and trade policy.

. The Government has released two key documents which chart the way forward for Australia in the region and beyond:

- First, in August 1997, the White Paper on Foreign and Trade Policy - Australia's first ever; and

- Second, in December, a companion document to the White Paper - Australia's Strategic Policy - which carried forward the White Paper's analysis to the level of Australia's strategic objectives, capability requirements and force structure priorities.

. Today, I want to draw on these two key documents in setting out the Government's foreign policy priorities and strategies in four broad areas:

- Australia's practical and long term commitment to the Asia Pacific, including our perspective on the region's economic difficulties;

- Australia's growing contribution to regional and global security;

- Our insistence on implementing a humane and principled foreign policy; and

- Our determination to enhance and expand Australia's broader global links.

Part One: Australia's Commitment to the Asia Pacific - The Economic Outlook

. As you know from your studies, Australia highest foreign policy priority is to contribute to the evolution of the Asia Pacific

- The Asia Pacific is where Australia's best opportunities for future jobs and prosperity lie.
: Over half of Australia's total foreign direct investment goes to APEC countries, and we earn three out of four of our export dollars in APEC markets.

- And it is the region of primary strategic interest to Australia - our geographic position means that our security depends largely on developing closer ties with our neighbours.

. The Government's White Paper identified two key trends shaping Australia's regional and global future - globalisation and the rise of East Asia.

. Globalisation is encouraging governments across the globe to make their foreign and trade policies as effective and results-oriented as possible.

- It is offering real advantages to those economies and societies that are genuinely open to innovation and quick to adapt for their own use more practical ways of doing things.

- It is rewarding flexibility and openness in institutions and governments, and penalising those who are unwilling to sustain economic reform and transparency.

- Globalisation is creating enormous challenges and opportunities for Australia and our neighbours in the Asia Pacific.

- That is why the White Paper adopted a `whole-of-government' approach to Australia's foreign and trade policy.

: Australia's international competitiveness in a global economy is closely linked to a more flexible labour market, investment in research and development, strong education and training systems, good infrastructure and effective savings and taxation policies.

. The White Paper concluded that it was more likely than not that economic growth in most of the industrialising countries of East Asia will remain at high levels over the next fifteen years - an assessment endorsed by our Strategic Review.

- But the White Paper also identified several constraints that could prevent the unprecedented rates of growth achieved in the region in recent decades being sustained

- For example, several factors might complicate the management of economic policy such as worsening current account deficits combined with high debt levels and weak and protected domestic financial sectors.

. Recent developments in the region - economic difficulties in East Asia and their wider political and social effects -point to the growing influence of global economic forces, and the need to adopt practical regional approaches to regional issues.

. The financial difficulties which began last year have brought into sharp focus serious problems in some of the economies' financial sectors.

- Several countries had been unable or unwilling tosupervise carefully their financial markets, had maintained protective barriers against international competition and had failed to break down domestic monopolies.

. But the economic strengths which made East Asia highly attractive to global investors over the last two decades will not disappear

- They are: high savings rates, an increasingly skilled and educated workforce and substantial infrastructure.

- These will contribute to further strong growth once the current storms are behind us.

. The overall regional prognosis is for a slowdown in economic growth over the next 2-3 years with sustained growth resuming thereafter.

- The outlook in particular countries depends on the speed with which governments implement economic reforms.

. That is why `staying the course' on economic reform and liberalisation is important if the region's economies are to emerge stronger.

- Policy reforms and deregulation leading to freer and more open markets will provide the impetus for strong and sustainable growth - in the region and globally.

. Regional cooperation is a vital part of achieving practical solutions for East Asian instability.

- The APEC meeting in Vancouver last year showed the way forward on liberalisation and reform.It represented a timely 'vote of confidence' in the region.

- Moreover, East Asian economies' commitment - even with their current difficulties - to reform in the WTO financial services negotiations concluded in December represented an important regional response to the crisis.

. I want to emphasise that Australia is doing its part by lending a helping hand to our regional neighbours.

- Through our involvement in the three IMF packages - for Thailand, Korea and Indonesia - and through practical aid and assistance to individual countries to help alleviate the negative social impact of the crisis.
: We have contributed over $A4 billion dollars to the IMF packages.

: Apart from Japan, Australia is the only country to have contributed to all three packages.

. Australia's aid program is working to improve the standard of economic governance in countries affected by the crisis, and alleviate some of the negative social impact caused by recent developments.

. In particular, we have given practical help to Indonesia in its time of need.

- When I visited Jakarta in January, I announced a new package of measures which, inter alia, aim to provide a longer-term advisory services facility to key Indonesian agencies, for the development of economic and social reform programs.

- Most recently - on 3 March - I announced additional assistance of $5.5 million for drought relief and employment creation in Indonesia

: this is additional to the $3.3 million for food aid and drought relief already provided to Irian Jaya, making a total Australian contribution of $8.8 million to Indonesia since October last year.

. In Thailand -in light of the new circumstances - I have agreed to relax the winding down of Australian aid to Thailand.

- Australia will provide an additional AUD 5 million to Thailand over three years for technical assistance in financial sector supervision and inmonitoring the impact on social sectors, in conjunction with the World Bank.

. While directing most of Australia's economic crisis-related aid effort to Indonesia and Thailand, we are also considering the scope for assistance with economic management and policy advice in Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines.

. Australia will also be involved in further high-level regional and international efforts to address the region's economic difficulties over the coming year.

. Australia remains strongly committed to the region, and we are confident about the region's long term future.

- Our commitment has seen practical expression in many different ways over the past twelve months, in addition to our response to the region's economic crisis:
: From helping to bring peace to Bougainville, providing aid to alleviate the effects of drought and forest fires in South East Asia and Papua New Guinea, to contributing to peace and development efforts in Mindanao.

Part Two:Australia's Contribution to Regional and Global Security:Building Trust and Confidence

. It is clear from everything I have just said that significant adjustment stresses in East Asia are going to continue over the short to medium term.

- These stresses will have an impact on political and social developments across the region, with potential flow-on effects in the short term at least for stability and security, depending on events in particular countries.

. The White Paper and our Strategic Review found the strategic situation in the Asia Pacific has become considerably more complex, particularly with the shift of the global strategic landscape away from the Cold War's bipolar balance.

- Both documents concluded that the rapid economic growth of recent decades was changing strategic relativities among regional countries,

- And that the uneven distribution of this growth among regional countries might exacerbate political, economic and cultural differences in ways which could create new sources of instability.

. The changing relationships among the major powers - US, China, Japan and, in the longer term, India and Russia - will largely determine the nature of the Asia Pacific's strategic environment over the next decade and a half.

. In that context, Australia believes that the United States' continuing engagement in the region is an important factor for regional stability.

- Australia sees its alliance with the United States as making a contribution to regional security.

. Australia also believes that China's economic growth, with its attendant confidence and enhanced influence, will be the most important strategic development of the next fifteen years.

- How China manages its economic growth and pursues its international objectives, and how other nations, particularly the United States and Japan, respond to China will be crucial issues over this period.

- For its part, Australia is committed to working with China both bilaterally and in regional institutions as it engages more fully with its partners in the region.

. Particularly welcome recent developments are the current strong commitments by both the United States and Japan to cooperating with China to ensure stability in the region - as evidenced in the positive results oflast year's visits by President Jiang Zemin to the United States and Prime Minister Hashimoto to China.

- We were also pleased to see successful Presidential summit meetings held last year between Japan and Russia, Japan and China, and Russia and China.

. There is growing acceptance in the region that strong, confident relationships provide the underpinning for regional stability and effective multilateral activity.

. That is why - consistent with the practical policy strategies recommended by the White Paper and the Strategic Review

-Australia has been extending the number of countries with which it has bilateral dialogues on regional security issues.

. In 1996, we commenced political-military talks with Japan and the Republic of Korea.Last year we agreed to commence four new important bilateral regional security dialogues with the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and China;

- In China's case, adding to our existing disarmament talks;

- And in Thailand's case, adding to our established senior officials talks.

. Our dialogue with Indonesia on regional security and arms control issues has now been running for four years, and we have regular contact with Malaysia and Singapore on security issues through our participation in Five Power Defence Arrangements.

- In addition, following the Prime Minister's successful visit to China earlier in 1997, we commenced a regular dialogue between our defence agencies.

. With the addition of our new dialogues, Australia now has bilateral security linkages, in one form or another, with most of the countries of the East Asia/Pacific region - adding further depth and substance to Australia's regional engagement.

. At the regional level, Australia supports strongly the work of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

- The ARF is giving practical expression to an emerging common interest among regional countries in promotingstability and security.

. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to address the ARF's Intersessional Support Group (ISG) on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) which Australia is co-chairing with Brunei.

. The work of the Intersessional Support Group shows that the ARF has made remarkable progress in the relatively short period since its creation.

- The ARF is now firmly established as the primary multilateral forum for dialogue on security issues in the Asia Pacific.

- This achievement is all the more noteworthy given the lack of a tradition of inclusive multilateral security dialogue in the Asia Pacific.

. The ARF has made important strides in developing the habits of dialogue and cooperation which underpin trust and mutual respect in the region.

- Importantly, the ARF is not avoiding the more sensitive security issues -progress has been made on defence-related CBMs, and on the involvement of defence practitioners in the ARF process.

. Clearly, the ARF has influenced the way countries think about security and stability in our region.

- It is encouraging the countries of the region to consider security issues in balanced, thoughtful and measured ways, and to take into account more fully the national interests and particular perspectives that each ARF member brings to the table.

. The ARF is well placed to reduce the scope for misunderstandings through increased transparency, particularly in defence matters, establishing norms of behaviour between countries, andhelping manage regional tensions.

. Of course, while there is much to applaud in what the ARF has already accomplished, no regional organisation - least of all one as path-breaking as the ARF - can afford to rest on its laurels or past achievements.

- The ARF needs to keep moving forward in practical and effective ways, and ARF member states need to give close attention to fostering the ARF's forward-looking agenda.

- The positive momentum established by the ARF must be maintained, and given new energy.

. While continuing to advance its confidence-building measures agenda, the ARF also needs to develop a better capacity to contribute to the avoidance and management of regional differences and disputes.

- One way forward is for the ARF to agree on generic mechanisms which the parties involved might want to utilise to help them manage differences or issues between them.

- I am particularly interested, for example, in the possibility of developing a "Good Offices" role for the ARF Chair.

. Of course, this is an area where there will always be differences of view on how far and how fast the ARF should move.

- It means we mus tmove at a pace comfortable for everyone while, at the same time, taking a genuinely innovative and practical approach in defining those areas where real progress is possible.

. More broadly, the region's economic crisis may affect the pace of modernisation of defence capabilities in the region, and this may have implications for the ARF's role.

- It may give the ARF more time to ripen and mature, so that when economic growth and the pace of defence modernisation pick up again, the habits of transparency and sensitivity to the security needs and perceptions of others will have a positive influence on these processes.

. This means it is all the more necessary to work together to understand and manage these questions.

. All of this places even more importance on building an extensive web of relationships and mutual respect among the countries of the Asia Pacific

- Particularly as the common regional interest in stability and security emerges more starkly than ever, and governments seek a return to prosperity with renewed urgency.

. While Australia's strategic environment is shaped by developments in the Asia Pacific, global issues can also have significant security implications for Australia.

- The risk of global conflict has diminished considerably with the end of the Cold War, but other potential threats remain, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

. At the multilateral level, the Australian Government takes a strong interest in security issues, in particular global arms control and disarmament regimes.

. On Monday this week, as part of Australia's response to the recent crisis caused by Iraq, I announced that the Government will pursue a series of diplomatic initiatives to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention.

- This initiative highlights the seriousness of Australia's commitment to make every effort to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, through effective and verifiable means.

- It was an Australian initiative which helped bring the Chemical Weapons Convention to fruition and, more recently, an Australian initiative which was pivotal in bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to a successful conclusion.

. The Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva is the international community's leading arms control negotiating forum.

- It has a proven track record in negotiating effective, verifiable global disarmament and non-proliferation treaties which have helped reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction, including in Australia's area of primary strategic concern.

. It is a forum which I believe can be developed still further with great benefits to the international community.

- The CD can play a key role in advancing the international agenda through a fissile materials cut-off convention.

. In my speech to the CD last month, I called for a ban on transfers of anti-personnel landmines to which the major, traditional landmines users and producers who have not signed the Ottawa Treaty, can subscribe.

- This process will go forward throughthe CD andwill be guided by Australia's Ambassador for Disarmament who has been appointed UN Special Co-ordinator on Landmines.

The Inter-Relationship Between Australia's Foreign, Security and Defence Policies

. The landmines issue leads me to the broader inter-relationship between Australia's foreign, security and defence policies.

. Clearly, enhancing and protecting Australia's security is a much more challenging task in the post-Cold War world.

- New non-military threats to security are a global reality - for example, the clandestine arms trade, the narcotics trade, pressures arising from the growth of the world's population, and related threats to the environment.

- The elemental characteristics of such non-military threats to security are that they cannot be contained or defeated by defence forces - although defence forces clearly retain a vital role in any national defence posture.

. One important consequence for Australia is that our foreign, security, defence, economic and trade policies are more inter-related or connected to each other than ever before.

- That is why the treatment of Australia's security interests in the White Paper and the Strategic Review were so similar.

- The Strategic Review was based directly upon the White Paper's judgements about the evolution of Australia's international environment, our national interests and our approach to protecting and promoting those interests.

. When the Government came into office, we established the National Security Committee of Cabinet as a focal point for security policy coordination and decision-making.

- It has functioned well over the past 2 years.

. Australia's foreign, security and defence policies work together in support of better bilateral, regional, sub-regional and multilateral relationships.

. Our defence policy - and defence relationships - play an important role in the achievement of our foreign policy goals.

- For example, the ADF continues to contribute a great deal to Australia's closer engagement with the region.
: The ADF maintains an important network of people-to-people links and contacts which have contributed to strategic dialogues, and the strengthening of ties in a range of Australia's most important bilateral relationships.

: These contacts also help build the sort of transparency and mutual trust which Australia is seeking to promote in regional forums such as the ARF.

. The impressive way in which this course brings together students and officers from all over the world is another very practical and worthwhile example of how foreign and defence policy can work together constructively in support of national objectives.

Part Three:A Humane and Principled Foreign Policy - Building Better Institutions

. In addition to being well coordinated with security and defence policies, Australia's foreign policy - our regional and global engagement - must also be humane and principled.

. Australia is vitally concerned with upholding internationally recognised standards of human rights and looking for practical ways to enhance individual dignity and freedom and promote democracy internationally.

- This is a key element of Australia's foreign policy and a long standing part of Australia's rich history - the shared values that bind Australians together as a nation.

. In that respect, a new international agenda is emerging to improve standards of governance and the protection of citizens at the regional and global level.

- This is a difficult area of policy because of several sensitivities about national sovereignty.

. That is why Australia supports the development of institutions within a country's own environment and national life.

- It is not something which can be imposed from without, for if there is not the political will and the people with a knowledge and a commitment to making those institutions work, then they will simply founder.

. The work of national institutions in individual countries can be strengthened through sub-regional and regional arrangements which provide a framework for exchanges of views and experiences.

- A key institution currently in evolution is the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, with a supporting Secretariat based in and financed by Australia.

- Inyears to come, I believe this institution will become more significant.

: I am pleased to say that it is already yielding tangible results.

. The Centre for Democratic Institutions - to be hosted by the Australian National University -is another good example of Australia's commitment to innovative institution-building.

- This Centre will be devoted to the provision of practical support for the consolidation and strengthening of democratic institutions in developing countries included in Australia's aid program.

- The focus of the Centre's training programs will be on electoral, parliamentary, judicial and human rights institution-building, and the processes by which broader society can contribute to democratic decision-making.

. I am particularly proud of the Centre because it exemplifies a cooperative rather than conflict approach towards promoting human rights.

- It will be the flagship of our good governance initiatives.

. At the international level,negotiation is proceeding towards a draft Statute for an International Criminal Court.

- Australia is strongly committed to the early establishment of the Court as a major human rights objective.

- It is an institution which is emerging in response to the horrors of Srebenica in Bosnia, Year Zero in Cambodia and the unspeakable killings in Rwanda.

. I want to emphasise that it is only through the pursuit of practical and effective efforts to promote human rights that we show real commitment to the welfare of individuals and society.

Part Four:Strengthening Australia's Broader Global Links

. Finally, I want to turn briefly to another key element of the Government's foreign policy- the enhancement of Australia's broader global links.

. The Governmentregards our links with other countries beyond the region as important and appreciating assets.

- We understand - as do other regional countries - that economic interests and our security can be tied up with events well beyond our immediate region.

. One striking example has been the Government's successful effort to reinvigorate and expand Australia's ties with Europe.

. The signature of the landmark Australia-EU Joint Declaration last June was a significant step towards upgrading the relationship.

- It reinforced the political weight in the relationship and initiated a program of bilateral cooperation ranging across many issues.

- The Declaration provides an excellent basis for pursuing further reform of EU agricultural trade policies.

. At the same time, substantial progress has been made to strengthen the range of our bilateral relationships in Europe. To take just three of the most recent examples:

- We are encouraging deeper Australia-Germany business ties through the "Partnership 2000 Agenda".

- During my visit to the United Kingdom in January this year, agreement was reached for the establishment of a bilateral Action Agenda to expand the already extensive economic and political relationship with the UK.

- We have established an economic and cultural council with Italy and a high-level Business Leaders Forum which is advancing commercial possibilities.

Conclusion-Looking Ahead

. In conclusion - over the past two years, as enunciated in our White Paper and the strategic review -the Government has established clear and practical priorities in Australia's foreign policy, founded securely in Australia's national interests.

- More than that, we have taken significant steps to implement those priorities.

. Long term objectives - and the courage to pursue these objectives effectively - are as vital in foreign policy as they are in any other sphere of government and business activity.

. Without doubt, this is a watershed period for the Asia Pacific.

. The region's economic crisis is testing the solidarity of our regional institutions, and the flexibility and commitment of the region's governments.

- There is no doubt that there is considerable pain associated with the transformation process.

- But out of this crisis should emerge a new Asia which will be more confident, more mature, and liberal and democratic.

. Australia is with the Asia Pacific for the long haul - your future is our future.

. The people-to-people links that I spoke of at the beginning of my address are a very important part of the region's quality of life, and provide the foundation for even stronger cooperative ties throughout the region in the future.I cannot stress that point too much.

- In that sense, you should see your participation in the College as part - an indispensable part - of the larger pattern emerging in the region and beyond.

- You embody the philosophy of regional cooperation, transparency and mutual understanding.

. I urge you to make the most of the personal and professional opportunities that this course provides.

. In particular, to those officers from abroad participating in this course:

- I hope that your studies give you not only a good understanding of Australia's defence and strategic outlook but a broader appreciation of Australian society and its values of tolerance, respect for human dignity and democracy.

- I trust that, after you leave Australia, you will continue to be vigorous ambassadors for the spirit and practice of regional and global cooperation.


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