Sturdy ties keep us stable

  • Articles and op-ed

By Marise Payne, Herald Sun. Friday 11th February 2022

DIPLOMACY can be like scaffolding. It strengthens and stabilises; it provides confidence and balance; it enables us to build.

The foundations of Australia's region, the Indo-Pacific, are under pressure. The stability and security that had been carefully maintained for decades, enabling a remarkable period of prosperity, are being strained.

Countries that share a vision of a stable region underpinned by principles such as openness, the protection of national sovereignty, and the observance of rules and fair play in trade and international security, must work together to strengthen our bonds and cooperate more closely.

The Quad grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States represents such strengthening and closeness. Spanning the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, and the from Southern Ocean up to the Sea of Okhotsk, our four nations embody the great breadth and diversity of the Indo-Pacific.

On Friday in Melbourne, I will meet for the fourth time with my counterparts from these countries, all very good friends to Australia.

We will discuss key regional issues including how drawing on our shared democratic values helps to ensure our region remains one in which each country's sovereignty is respected, where might does not make right, and where the same rules apply to all countries, whether they are giants or small island states.

This is one crucial part of Australia's approach to managing the period of strategic competition into which our region has moved - and which is set to intensify.

Whether it is the Quad, our deepening partnership with ASEAN, our readiness to work hand-in-hand with our Pacific family or the AUKUS technologyco-operation agreement with the US and UK, Australia is investing heavily in our network of friendships.

We are participants in this strategic competition and we will not step back from our focus of ensuring the rules of fairness, equality and transparency are followed by all, for the benefit of all.

The Quad has particular value because we are four of the leading democracies in the region, with the will and the capability to work with all our friends and partners, while standing firm against the risk authoritarianism poses to all countries who do want to make their own strategic decisions, free from coercion.

Australia and other countries - including Lithuania, whose foreign minister I was pleased to host in Canberra this week - have faced economic coercion in recent years.

Australia has stood firm, and others around the world will look at what authoritarian nations are doing and understandably consider the impact coercion and bullying could have on their own economies and their people.

Some authoritarian nations are knowingly taking advantage of the vulnerability of others during the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, the pandemic has only added to, and complicated, many of the challenges our region is facing: whether it is the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, attempts to undermine international law in the South China Sea or Myanmar's military regime perpetrating violence against its own people.

The Quad is, in effect, a democratic counterweight to these disruptive trends. It is a clear demonstration a network of nations motivated by regional solidarity exists to support other countries and thereby the Indo-Pacific neighbourhood as a whole.

Dependable networks are good stabilisers - the scaffolding in times of uncertainty. The Quad gives confidence to other countries by working together to build the resilience of our region through practical support. Most immediately we are ensuring Covid vaccines reach all corners of our region - with no strings attached.

Already, the Quad countries have delivered 485 million doses under our pledge to donate more than 1.3 billion globally.

We are supporting the development of infrastructure that serves the needs of regional nations and their people, spurs economic growth and does not burden developing nations with debt they cannot afford.

Today, we will also discuss bolstering maritime security to ensure trade can flow freely; building resilience against foreign interference, including dangerous and malicious disinformation; and defending against cyber attacks while negotiating a better international rule book so that the internet is not a lawless space.

Australia knows economic growth, better health and greater stability for our region is good for all of us. Australians will be safer and more prosperous living in a region where all people thrive and trade rather than fight, withdraw or continue to suffer under the burden of health crises such as Covid.

The Quad is not exclusive: we are working with our region, including with the ASEAN nations, who we all agree are central to Indo-Pacific stability and prosperity.

The fact my three counterparts have made this journey despite other challenges, ranging from the pandemic to Russia's latest aggression against Ukraine, shows their strong commitment.

Our region will change with or without us. It is squarely in our interests to work together in shaping this change for the good of future generations of Australians.

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