The 2017 foreign policy white paper
24 Nov 2017|

Australia’s foreign policy must advance our values and our national interests. It must do so clear-eyed and pragmatic, in a time when the pace and scale of change is unprecedented in all of human history.

The economic forces that have delivered prosperity and opportunity are also generating—because of the rapid rate of change—political uncertainty, military capability and strategic ambition. Political alienation is feeding populism and protectionism and providing opportunities for foreign interference.

We are navigating a rapidly changing multi-polar world in which the major players are testing their relationships with each other, while undergoing rapid change themselves. In the past we could safely assume that the world worked in a way that suited Australia. Now power is shifting and the rules and institutions are under challenge.

We are experiencing unprecedented prosperity and opportunity, but the liberal rules-based order that underpins it all is under greater stress than at any time since its creation in the 1940s. This is the first time in our history that our dominant trading partner is not also our dominant security partner. We must see this as an opportunity, not as a risk.

The genius of Australia is that we define our national identity not by race or religion or ethnicity, but rather by a commitment to shared political values and institutions which are accessible to all. Rarer than you might think, if you reflect on that. The success of our multicultural society is the envy of the world, and our people—magnificent in their diversity, harmonious because of our values and the mutual respect which they entail—are our greatest asset.

With over a quarter of us born somewhere else and more than half of us with a foreign-born parent, we demonstrate that an open, diverse and integrated society is not only compatible with security, but indeed a prerequisite. This is a strength that we take to the world as we show our credentials as a regional power with global interests and global influence.

My government’s foreign policy settings are true to our values not because of unconditional altruism, but because they align with our interests. We are pragmatists, not ideologues. Being true to ourselves is a hard-headed investment in a fairer, more stable and prosperous world.

Australia’s vision for our Indo-Pacific region is optimistic and born of ambition. It is for a neighbourhood that is defined by open markets and the free flow of goods, services, capital and ideas; where freedom of navigation goes unchallenged and the rights of small states are untrammelled; where our shared natural bounty, our land and water and air, is cherished and protected and disagreements are resolved by dialogue in accordance with agreed rules and established institutions. The white paper argues that today’s challenges require Australia to take more responsibility for our own prosperity and security.

This does not mean being less vigorous in upholding international law, let alone degrading our Alliance with the United States. It means pursuing our interests just as much in San Francisco as in Shanghai and always on our own terms. Our Alliance with the United States reflects a deep alignment of interests and values, while never being a straitjacket for Australian policymaking. Our friendship and partnership with China enriches our economy and society, while not preventing us from vigorously advancing our own interests.

I have always enjoyed a frank and warm relationship with the leaders of the United States and indeed with the leaders of China, with whom I have now spent many hours in conversation, mostly about economic and security issues, but in the case of Premier Li stretching more recently to Australian Rules Football and its growing following in China. You could not imagine, in fact, modern Australia without our over one million strong Chinese community, any more than you could imagine it without our more than half a million strong and rapidly growing Indian community. We admired, and envied a little, we politicians, the enthusiastic welcomes received by Prime Minister Modi and President Xi and Premier Li during their recent visits.

There is no more important bilateral relationship in the world than that of China and the United States. I have seen firsthand that Presidents Trump and Xi respect and understand each other, both on the issues on which they agree and those on which they differ.

Those who like to focus only on difference or disagreement should reflect how China has gone much further than many imagined, or indeed predicted, in the application of tighter and tighter economic sanctions on North Korea. Indeed the unanimity of leaders at the East Asia Summit recently in Manila in condemning North Korea was genuine and determined.

Equally, China, the United States and Australia have, in different ways, provided vital support to the armed forces of the Philippines in their courageous battle to suppress the ISIL-backed insurgency in the Southern Philippines. Indeed, when I was at a Camp Aguinaldo in Manila recently, the Chief of the Philippines Defence Force, General Guerrero, described our surveillance and other assistance as a ‘game-changer’—his words, not mine, a game-changer—that enabled them to retake Marawi as swiftly as they did. I want to again honour the 165 armed force Philippines servicemen who were killed and the 1,700 wounded in that operation. They were defending all of us in that struggle and today our soldiers are in the Philippines. In fact, I met with them at Camp Aguinaldo, training young soldiers in the Philippines in urban warfare and counter-insurgency.

Personally I remain very confident about America’s long-term commitment to the rules-based system in this region, and the extended visit and presence of President Trump in his North Asian and Southeast Asian tour, attending APEC, ASEAN and the East Asia Summits, underlines this. But it is also, leaving aside one administration or one president, manifestly in America’s long-term national interest today, tomorrow and as it has always been. If I could paraphrase John Howard, ‘Those who celebrate the possibility of American retrenchment should be very careful what they wish for’.

This white paper provides a framework for securing our own future, while sharing the burden of collective leadership with trusted partners and friends. It shows how we are taking a far more active role in shaping the future of our region in five important ways.

First, we are pursuing economic opportunity with our Indo-Pacific partners. We’re preparing the way for our businesses to connect with markets and consumers in those dynamic regional economies. We pursue market integration wherever we can do so, on the basis of strong, transparent rules, fair and open competition, predictable and non-discriminatory regulation. You will have seen that, together with Prime Minister Abe of Japan, we have worked tirelessly to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership, despite the withdrawal of the United States. We’re pursuing negotiation for a high-quality Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, RCEP, a partnership centred in ASEAN that draws in India, China, Japan and Korea, and several other agreements which we hope can build towards a larger free trading system.

The second way we’re shaping our region is by seeking every opportunity to link with partners who share our interests and commitment to rules-based institutions. A good example is when officials of Japan, India, the US and Australia met in the margins of the East Asia Summit in Manila earlier this month. I discussed the importance of this initiative with Prime Minister Modi in Manila at our meeting. Another was my meeting with Prime Minister Phúc in Vietnam earlier this month, where we agreed to work towards signing a strategic partnership.

Third, we are elevating Southeast Asia into a top priority for Australia. Now, that’s why we didn’t hesitate to deploy ADF assets and personnel to the Southern Philippines. But we will need to do more in our region to assist our neighbours in the battle against global Islamist terrorism. Believe me, we do not want to have another Raqqa or Mosul in our region. The front line in the battle against terrorism in this interconnected world is everywhere. Everything is connected. A terrorist in Syria can provide instructions to an agent in Sydney or Melbourne. We’ve seen plenty of evidence of that. We need to be constantly alert, constantly working with our neighbours in the region. Marawi is a place most Australians would not have heard of. If it was pointed out, they would say, ‘It’s a long way away’. Nowhere is far away.

Fourth, our greater commitment to Southeast Asia will be matched in the Pacific. If we’re honest, we’ll acknowledge we’ve not always lived up to our aspirations here, with our immediate neighbours. This white paper will come to be seen as an irreversible and permanent step-up in our commitment. Earlier this month, we announced a significant investment in a new under-sea telecommunications cable, which will bring new opportunities for our neighbours in PNG and, I hope, the Solomon Islands too. It’s part of a broader program to enable our Pacific neighbours to take advantage of the productive power of greater connectivity and to integrate into the Australian and New Zealand economies insofar as they choose to do so. We’ll step up our assistance in monitoring and protecting their vast maritime domains.

These are defining commitments. They’re essential to the long-term resilience and economic prospects of the Pacific. They are commitments of a regional power with global interests.

Fifth, resilience and autonomy are new themes that run strongly through this white paper and wider program of government. To ensure we always remain open to ideas, capital and people, we must restore integrity and trust where it is broken and ensure our security and regulatory systems are up to the task. We are committed to protecting the autonomy and integrity of decision-making in the face of foreign interference and coercion. This is particularly important in cyberspace. We will guard against all attempts to use cyber to interfere in Australian domestic affairs and democratic processes. There is nothing that we will guard more jealously than our autonomy, than our sovereignty. Australian sovereignty is our commitment.

The white paper is premised on the belief that we cannot afford to turn in on ourselves and close our doors to the flow of people, capital, imports or ideas. If we’re to maintain the openness, dynamism and prosperity of our region, we must preserve those strong, transparent rules, fair and open competition, non-discriminatory regulation. In shaping the region in this way, leveraging our significant national assets, our economy, our people, our institutions, we ensure our strategic security and economic interests converge. Security and prosperity depend on each other. You can’t have one without the other.

These all converge around the universal values and institutions which sit at the heart of our Australian sovereignty. The foreign policy white paper shows how we’re lifting our ambition, sharpening our strategic focus, redoubling our commitment to ensure we continue to benefit from an Indo-Pacific that is open, prosperous and free.