Australia Recalls Top Diplomats to Craft Foreign Policy Agenda

  • Meeting important for strengthening Aussie influence: Bishop
  • Recalling diplomats indicative of challenges facing Australia

Australia is recalling more than 100 of its top diplomats to help craft a new foreign policy agenda as the key U.S. ally navigates a geopolitical shift in the Asia Pacific.

Every Australian ambassador, high commissioner and consul-general, apart from those whose terms are due to expire, will be brought back for the meeting later this month to help draw up the so-called white paper with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trade Minister Steve Ciobo and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

“At a time of significant global uncertainty it is vital that Australia harness the experience and intellect of our most senior diplomats,” Bishop said in an e-mailed statement. “This meeting will be important in strengthening Australia’s influence and standing in the world.”

Australia has walked a fine line between supporting the strategic interests of the U.S. and preserving ties with China, its largest trading partner. Turnbull’s government is pushing the case for the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal to go ahead after President Donald Trump pulled out, touting a protectionist policy of “America First.”

China, meanwhile, has become increasingly assertive, unnerving some neighbors with its military expansion and its behavior over disputed areas of the East China Sea and South China Sea.

The recall indicates just how challenging Australia sees the current geopolitical climate, according to James Curran, a foreign relations specialist at the University of Sydney. Curran said the white paper would be Australia’s first new strategic foreign policy blueprint since 1997 -- though it was updated in 2003.

The nation, he said, had successfully navigated a rise of Asian nationalism at the end of World War II, a re-calibration of the U.S. posture in Asia under Richard Nixon and the end of the Cold War, which were bigger tests than the current environment.

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