Richard Marles eyes meeting with US defence secretary at Singapore forum | Australian foreign policy

Australia’s new defense minister, Richard Marles, is preparing to travel to Singapore next week for a high-level security conference and a potential first meeting with his US counterpart.

The trip is the latest in a flurry of diplomatic activity by the new Labor government. The minister for foreign affairs, Penny Wong, has just wound up visits to three Pacific countries, and the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, is preparing to fly to Indonesia on Sunday.

Marles, who has been receiving briefings from his department since being sworn in as defense minister on Wednesday, is expected to fly to Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue.

The annual event, to be held on 10-12 June, brings together senior defense officials from dozens of countries for speeches and talks on key strategic issues.

Meetings with international counterparts on the sidelines of the event are still being arranged. Still, the US would likely agree to any request for talks between Marles and the US defense secretary, Lloyd Austin.

Austin will deliver a speech about US defense policy on 11 June and will “meet with key Indo-Pacific leaders to advance US defense partnerships across the region”, the Pentagon said.

Marles would also likely meet with Singapore’s defense minister, Ng Eng Hen, and will be joined by senior Australian defense and foreign affairs officials at the event. Pacific island countries are set to be represented at the conference.

China’s minister of national defense, Wei Fenghe, is scheduled to address the conference on 12 June. While China has publicly made overtures for dialogue with Australia, there have been no calls or meetings between Australian ministers and their direct counterparts for more than two years.

Despite the Coalition’s claims before the election that a Labor government would be weak on China, Australia’s key security and foreign policy settings remain the same.

Marles, also the deputy prime minister, said this week that China was Australia’s “biggest security anxiety” and, under Xi Jinping, had sought to shape the world in a way that “presents enormous challenges for us”.

Richard Marles

A key issue for the new defense minister is implementing the Aukus partnership with the US and the UK – given Australia’s existing plan to acquire eight nuclear-propelled submarines is still the subject of a joint study.

Decisions yet to be made include whether Australia will opt for a British or American submarine design and the level of domestic construction possible. The plan has previously attracted concerns from Indonesia and Malaysia, raising fears that it could add to a regional arms race and pose nuclear non-proliferation issues.

Due to a visit to India visiting from Sunday to Tuesday, Albanese said he would be joined by a high-level delegation of Australian business leaders as part of efforts to deepen ties with the northern neighbor.

Three ministers will accompany the prime minister – Wong, the trade minister, Don Farrell, and the industry minister, Ed Husic – and the MP for the Northern Territory seat of Solomon, Luke Gosling.

In Jakarta, Albanese will participate in the annual leaders’ meeting with Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo. He is also scheduled to meet with the secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Lim Jock Hoi, to underline Australia’s commitment to the region.

Indonesia will be the prime minister’s second international trip after he attended the long-scheduled Quad leaders’ summit in Tokyo on his second day in office.

“Indonesia is one of our closest neighbors, which is why I committed to visiting as soon as possible,” Albanese said in a statement on Friday. “During my visit, I look forward to further building our ties, including revitalizing our trade relationship and promoting climate, infrastructure, and energy cooperation.”

The new Australian government has explicitly accepted that the climate crisis poses a national security threat and has used a deeper 2030 emissions reduction target to begin to build bridges with France and Pacific countries.

In Tonga on Friday, Wong alluded to the new parliament’s makeup, which includes a Labor majority in the lower house but also a record crossbench and more Greens MPs.

“The Australian people have voted for a government and a parliament that is supportive of more ambitious action on climate change – and that is what we will do at home and in the world,” Wong assured Tonga’s leaders after flying from Samoa.

Samoa’s prime minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, said on Thursday she was “greatly encouraged” that the new Australian government’s climate policy “brings them closer to alignment” with advocacy by Pacific countries.

Wong’s travel to Samoa and Tonga followed a separate visit to Fiji late last week.

Wong explained on Friday she had deliberately chosen the Pacific Islands Forum secretariat in Fiji as the site of her first speech in the Pacific to signal the Australian government’s respect for Pacific institutions.

Without explicitly mentioning China, Wong said Australia would “encourage others to respect the regional architecture”. Wong said the nature of Australia’s relationship with Pacific island countries was as important as the outcomes.

“We are not a government or a country that wants to come in and tell you what you should do,” Wong said at her press conference in Tonga. “We see it in our interests and part of our responsibility, as a member of the Pacific family, to work with you, and that’s the approach we’ll take.”

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.