JULIE BISHOP: I am delighted to be here at Chatham House and may I pay tribute to the role that this famous institution has played in supporting the principle of free speech, which we must continue to uphold and defend. I am in London for the inaugural Australia-UK Leadership Forum and also the annual Australia-UK Ministerial Dialogue. This will be my first opportunity to meet new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and there are many issues for us to discuss.
I am then on my way to San Francisco for the annual Australia-US Ministerial Forums, so the juxtaposition of these Ministerial Forums will be very interesting and useful in informing our foreign policy.
The Australia-UK relationship is strong and enduring. Yet last month, our nations opened a significant new chapter in our long history of military cooperation with the awarding of a $35-billion dollar shipbuilding contract, between BAE Systems and the Australian Government, for nine Hunter class frigates for the Australian Navy. This contract establishes a relationship that will last many years, perhaps decades, as we build a stronger Navy - a regionally capable Navy for our vast island continent.
Military cooperation between our countries is of course not new, as that relationship goes back to British settlement of Australia - part naval base, part penal colony. But the strength of our shared military tradition is our commitment to democratic civilian rule and here in Chatham House we're very conscious of that political tradition that our two countries share.
One of the three Prime Ministers who lived here in Chatham House, William Pitt the Elder, famously described the importance of English liberties in a speech to the House of Commons in 1763, when he was opposing the imposition of a land tax, and he said: “The poorest man, may in his cottage, bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind blow through it, the storm may enter, the rain may enter, but the King of England cannot enter”.
So individual rights under the State, including property rights are key pillars of stable societies - one of Britain's great gifts to the world.
The nations of the world have come a long way in developing rules and norms for international affairs, not least to protect and advance ideals of individual freedom. It's the nations which had borrowed from the tradition of English Common Law, the United States and Australia and others, who played an important role in developing the contemporary world order. This international rules-based order instigated by the United States and its allies, developed after the horrors of two world wars where there was a collective will to create a world out of chaos, to ensure we never again experienced the ordeals and horrific loss of life and that there would never be a third global conflict.
The United Nations came to being to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and also to reaffirm the faith in fundamental human rights. The international rules-based order remains a work in progress, of course, like all bodies of law, and there have been times when it has faced great strain including through the decades of the Cold War. However, is arguably facing its greatest test as it's challenged and strained on multiple fronts. I believe there are three primary challenges currently to the order.
First, some States are openly defying international rules and norms. Russia, Iran, North Korea for example, had adopted hybrid tactics, undertaking disruptive activities in cyber space, arming proxies and threatening conduct that is often below the threshold of warfare but still greatly destabilizing. Take Russia and its annexation of Crimea. The first time since World War II that a nation has used force to redraw national boundaries in continental Europe. Its support of so-called separatists in some of its bordering states including Eastern Ukraine, has challenged state sovereignty and has resulted in significant loss of life. Just on four years ago on the 17th of July 2014, the deployment of a powerful BUK missile system from Russia's 53rd Brigade into Eastern Ukraine resulted in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 with 298 civilians on board, all killed, including 38 Australian citizens and residents and 10 British citizens. Australia and the Netherlands are holding Russia to account for its role in the downing of MH17.
Russia has played a spoiling role through its membership of the UN Security Council to shield the Assad regime from accountability for chemical weapons used against the Syrian people.
The nerve agent attack in Salisbury brings into questions Russia's involvement in the use of military grade Novichok, and this is just another example of conduct that constitutes a growing threat to international security and the rights of other sovereign nations.
The chilling incident in Wiltshire raises more questions for Russia to answer regarding is management of its stockpile of military grade nerve agents.
Iran, while it may have paused its nuclear programme under the JCPOA, continues to deploy armed groups across the Middle East with proxies in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon and Yemen. The scale of humanitarian suffering in Yemen is being prolonged by Iranian support for armed groups, with more advanced missiles being fired at targets in Saudi Arabia in recent months.
North Korea has long threatened its neighbours and has launched attacks against targets in South Korea, across the Sea of Japan, while continuing to develop a nuclear weapons, a ballistic missile program, in direct defiance of numerous binding UN Security Council Resolutions. There is a familiar pattern adopted by states seeking to defy the international rules-based order. Unable to meet the economic and political expectations of their citizens, these states seek to harness nationalism, to create a narrative reflecting a siege mentality where they are beset by external enemies and must stand against them.
The second challenge to the international rules-based order is the increasing tendency for nations to take a one sided unilateral approach to some of their international interests, including economic interests. The United States is now favouring a more disruptive, often unilateral, foreign and trade policy that has heightened anxieties about its commitment to the rules-based order that it established, protected and guaranteed. The US has withdrawn from the JPCOA. It was a treaty level agreement that it struck with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran. It was endorsed by the UN Security Council. The United States has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement and from the Human Rights Council. The Administration’s admonishment of NATO members to share more of the defence burden was a point worth making, as long as it leads to a stronger and more robust alliance. The Administration's decision to unilaterally raise tariffs and quotas against some of its trading partners has raised concerns about the United States’ commitment to champion the international trading system, a role which it has played for the last three quarters of a century. Now while the US trade grievances are justly held in many instances, the answer must lie in in peaceful negotiations and resort if necessary to the World Trade Organisation.
For the United Kingdom and Australia, the current picture is complex. Our closest ally and the world's most powerful nation is being seen as less predictable and less committed to the international order that it pioneered.
The third challenge facing the international order is that it must accommodate a changing balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. The 1979 normalization of relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China marked a new phase in mission of the people in China, one fifth of humanity, to reclaim their place in world affairs. This process accelerated as China opened up its economy, as did China's accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2001. In turn, China’s economic integration boosted economies across Asia, and it has been a steady driver of global economic growth. China is Australia's largest trading partner, and that of probably over 120 other nations around the world. Sustained growth has to be managed, but it has also under written it military modernisation and through that it's increased strategic weight in the Indo-Pacific. So China is contesting the United States’ role in the region through tactics that fall short of direct confrontation. Across the Indo-Pacific nations are adjusting to new trajectories of power and influence, and this regional contest has global implications.
The United States-China trade dispute is one manifestation of a larger struggle between the world’s existing superpower and a growing economic and strategic power. The global economy and global stability will feel the impact of this for some time to come.
So what must we do?
Individually these challenges would be difficult enough, however in combination they require urgent and coordinated engagement, by countries committed to an international order that provides opportunities for all nations to rise. Australia and the United Kingdom must work together, and with other partners, to defend, promote, and strengthen the rules-based order as we have a key stake in the role it plays in regulating the conduct between nations. We will continue to hold Russia to account for it role in the downing of MH17, over Ukraine and the Salisbury nerve agent attack. We’ve called out cyber-crime by Russia and by North Korea.
Equally, we must engage more deeply with those who do seek to circumvent or destabilise the order in pursuit of short term gain. We must demonstrate that international cooperation can be effective and there are penalties and consequences for attempting to subvert international law and norms of behaviour. We must work to preserve and develop transparent and predictable rules for trade and investment in our region and the WTO and with the EU and with the UK. In some cases we must take forward international cooperation in non-traditional ways. Australia and Japan, for example, overcame the sceptics to rally others who saw the logic and the benefit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement of 11 countries, after the United States had decided to withdraw. The Paris Climate Accord remains a major international achievement. It creates a workable and important platform for further commitments to sustain our environment.
On the third challenge - the power shifts in the Indo-Pacific - no long-term foreign policy objective is more important to Australia than ensuring that the Indo-Pacific region evolves peacefully as it undergoes a period of profound strategic change. So we all need to work harder for the security of the Indo-Pacific. That’s why we welcome Global Britain as a partner in our region. Australia and the United Kingdom can strengthen our influence by coordinating closely and aligning our advocacy of the United States on key alliance issues. Acting together we can better support the United States to lead in ways that advance all of our mutual interests, in ways that support the rules-based order.
We are taking greater responsibility for our own security and prosperity through the framework that's been detailed in our Foreign Policy White Paper released last year and the Defence White Paper in 2016. For Australia our regional neighbours have become strong economic partners with bilateral and regional trade agreements delivering substantial mutual benefits over many years.
The relations between governments and people have matured in tandem. In partnership with the Pacific Island countries we will continue to grow resilience across the region and amplify island states’ voices on the international stage. And we look forward to a stronger UK voice in the Pacific and welcome the commitment to a greater diplomatic presence as well as increased levels of development assistance as we work together to support the stability and economic progress of the Indo-Pacific region more broadly.
Australia will continue to deepen engagement with South-East Asian countries, including by building countries capacity to protect their maritime domains. We will work more closely with democracies in our region, New Zealand, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, as well as the United States, to promote our ideals and values.
My message isn’t new, although I think it's always important to be reminded that we are stronger when we build coalitions of like-minded nations to support the structures that have brought so much benefit to the world. The rules-based order was developed after the Second World War and it has seen the greatest expansion of prosperity in human history. That framework was designed as a level playing field so that all nations had the opportunity to rise economically. However some nations that have gained significant benefit from the order are now challenging it and we need to remind them and our populations at home of its importance. We also need to continue to advocate for the principles of liberal democracy, freedom of speech, individual liberty and human dignity.
Struggles which many predicted were over with the collapse of the Iron Curtain have returned as populist leaders promote ideas that have in fact failed so many past societies. History has a painful lesson on the consequences of nations seeking narrow gains at the expense of others, of seeking to dominate others, through military or economic power of an environment where might is right. The rules-based order is not perfect, by any means. It requires constant attention and development, to ensure that we take the path to a more enlightened future for our people in the world. Australia looks forward to joining forces with Global Britain in upholding and defending the ideals and values that have underpinned our respective security and prosperity. Long may our joint endeavour in that regard endure.
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