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Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the defensive as Europe and South-East Asian countries react badly to AUKUS and the nuclear submarines

Morrison in defence mode as AUKUS fallout goes global,  Frozen out in Europe, feted in Washington, alarming some of its south-east Asian neighbours: questions are being raised about whether Australia has the right diplomatic skills and resources to perform on the world stage.  The Age  By Anthony Galloway SEPTEMBER 25, 2021  or six days, the Indonesians knew something big was coming from Australia.

At a meeting in Jakarta on September 9, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne let her friend, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, know a major shift was coming.

“The Foreign Minister of Australia mentioned there will be an announcement, but at the time we didn’t receive any information [about] what sort of announcement because I assume at that time it was not final yet,” Retno said this week.

The following Wednesday, Payne messaged Retno hours before the announcement of the AUKUS defence pact between Australia, the United States and Britain to share military technology and help Canberra build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines in the face of Beijing’s growing aggression and military might.

The two ministers then talked over the phone, and Retno told Payne she hoped Australia would uphold its obligations to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and its commitment to “contribute to the peace and stability of the region”.

“I mentioned to my good friend Marise that Indonesia really hopes Australia will fulfil that commitment,” Retno said.

Since then, Malaysia has gone even further in expressing its reservations about the agreement, saying this week it will now consult China on how to react to the development.

And French President Emmanuel Macron is continuing to snub Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s offer of a phone call after he was infuriated by Australia’s decision to dump a $90 billion submarine agreement with Paris and instead negotiate the AUKUS deal behind his back.

All of this contrasts sharply with Morrison’s week-long trip to New York and Washington. His interactions with the Americans have been glowing: not just with President Joe Biden, but also Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. The first physical leaders meeting of the “Quad” grouping – Australia, the US, Japan and India – was expected to have a similar air of friendliness to it on Friday.

A week after the announcement of AUKUS, Australia finds itself at the forefront of world politics in a way it has never before been. Frozen out in Europe, feted in Washington, alarming some of its south-east Asian neighbours, and backed in by the Quad, these are unfamiliar times for little old Australia. And questions are being asked about whether we’ve got the right diplomatic skills and resources to perform on the world stage.

The ‘Anglosphere’ is back

When announcing AUKUS, Morrison described it as a “forever partnership”, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was an agreement among “kindred” nations. This led to a perception it was an alliance, when it is not. AUKUS is an agreement to share military technology including nuclear submarine capability, long-range missiles, cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and undersea drones.
Former senior diplomat and intelligence official Allan Gyngell, now national president of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, says Australia sent a problematic message to the region that the “Anglosphere is back”.

It reinforces perspectives that Australia is not really a legitimate part of the region, but a junior partner in a three-way partnership between English-speaking countries,” Gyngell says. “However much we say Asia is important to us, it is clear that home is where the heart is and the heart is with our two great and powerful friends.”

Some south-east Asian countries were also said to be uneasy with the focus on “values” and “democracy”. Many countries in the region are anxious about the growing assertiveness of China but they aren’t liberal democracies. They don’t see a nexus between liberal democratic values and the need to counterbalance a stronger, more aggressive China………………….

With the emergence of new formations such as the Quad and AUKUS, south-east Asian nations have been concerned about the power of ASEAN weakening. Australian diplomats have been insisting the nation is committed to “ASEAN centrality” in both private meetings and public statements.

Gyngell says Australia needs to be careful not to dismiss the concerns of south-east Asian nations, adding “we always look to vindication of our own positions and prejudices”.

Europe’s fury

Further afield, the Morrison government is most concerned about the repercussions in Europe, where there is visceral anger stemming from the AUKUS agreement being negotiated in secret all year even though the US and Britain are key members of NATO.

On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, European Council President Charles Michel reminded Morrison of the need for “transparency and loyalty” during an awkward encounter, while German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the agreement as “unsettling”.

While the EU contemplates whether to scuttle talks over a free trade deal with Australia, Canberra can also expect a Europe that is less forgiving over its action on climate change………

Not enough focus has been on whether Australia is adequately investing in all the instruments of statecraft, most notably diplomacy and foreign aid, to support its strategic intentions.

Between 2013 and 2020, Australia’s total diplomatic and development budgets fell from 1.5 per cent of the federal budget to 1.3 per cent. The government gutted parts of the foreign aid budget in south-east Asia to pay for its “step-up” in the Pacific………….

September 25, 2021 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA, politics international


  1. Morrison isn’t on the defensive. He’s protecting his country from a clear and present danger. What business is it of Europe to be furious? What business is it of France to be furious? Even if the danger to Australia and surrounding region wasn’t a consideration, there were cost blow outs, inefficiencies and delays and promises of Australian jobs deferred to think of. France should not have been surprised that Australia cancelled the submarine contract.

    Comment by marymtf | September 25, 2021 | Reply

    • That is a reasonable and dec ently worded reply – in contrast to the often insulting flak that I often get. It’s a fair point of view, and is the one that the government, and many reasonable people would agree with. There is certainly much to worry about, regarding China. Still, I believe that a mulltilateral approach, that includes the French presence in the Pacific – New Caledonia and other areas, as well as Indonesia, Malaysia, many islands – is the way to go – not a heavy alliance with two Anglophone big powers. Yes, the submarine deal with France was a bad one – but with the new deal, I think that it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire. As to France being ”furious” – well, it’s the way that it was done. There is ample evidence that Scott Morrison and Marise Payne very deliberately deceived an ally, France, and that Scott Morrison subsequently lied to everyone, about this. A very bad look indeed, and showing Australia as not to be trusted.

      Comment by Christina MacPherson | September 25, 2021 | Reply

    • p.s. It’s refreshing to read a blog that is truly individual and personal writing – and often quite amusing, too. Good on you, marymtf !

      Comment by Christina MacPherson | September 25, 2021 | Reply

  2. Thanks for your kind words about my blog, Christina. I don’t write so much these days, life has
    got in my way. I mostly visit blogging friends.
    I do agree that this new alliance needs to be more inclusive. It’s in everyone’s best interest. I’m hoping that it’s only a matter of time. Can’t agree though that France should have been told about the plan in advance. I think Australia had the right to make this arrangement without interference till it was firmly in place. I can’t imagine that France would have taken it quietly.
    I can relate to flak. No one is interested in debate any more. 💕

    Comment by marymtf | September 26, 2021 | Reply

    • Well, you will go back to writing, when you are ready. Grandchildren are a top priority, anyway, I reckon. Just one little nitpick, I have -”the right to make this arrangement without interference till it was firmly in place”. It’s not firmly in place. Indeed it will be interesting to observe whether America’s BWX Technologies or UK’s BAE Systems will get the lucrative contract, if it does eventuate. The submarine deal is still pretty much ”a plan to have a plan” Laura Tingle writes – ”It is hard to think of a decision by Australia with such profound implications for our future that has been so redolent of symbolism, yet so completely lacking in substance.”

      Comment by Christina MacPherson | September 26, 2021 | Reply

      • Ta

        Comment by marymtf | September 26, 2021

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