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Australia Sets Out Vision for Middle Power Influence

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese holds a joint press conference with New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon at the Commonwealth Parliament Offices in Sydney, Dec. 20, 2023.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese holds a joint press conference with New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon at the Commonwealth Parliament Offices in Sydney, Dec. 20, 2023.

In a wide-ranging foreign policy speech, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese spoke of stabilizing fractured ties with China and the transformational benefits of a nuclear-powered submarine deal with the United States.

Anthony Albanese believes Australia has become an influential middle power that is prioritizing security in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Australian prime minister delivered the annual address Tuesday at the Lowy Institute, a respected Sydney-based research organization.

Albanese used his speech to repeat calls for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas conflict and to affirm Israel's right to defend itself. He told the audience that boosting ties with India and Indonesia were priorities for his left-leaning government.

Since it came to power in May 2022, Albanese’s Labor administration has also sought to ease tensions with China, Australia’s biggest trading partner. There have been various disputes over human rights, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the future status of Taiwan and Australian citizens detained in Beijing.

Albanese told the audience that relations with China were improving.

"We have brought the same sense of calm and consistency to the work of stabilizing our relationship with China," he said. "We are clear-eyed about the situation, mindful that for all the change the Australia and China relationship has undergone through 50 years now, we remain two nations with very different values and political systems. I’ve said before that China does not see itself as a status quo power. It seeks a region and a world that is much more accommodating of its ambitions and its interests."

Albanese said the trilateral AUKUS pact between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia would transform regional security. The accord will give Australia access for the first time to nuclear-powered submarines.

Analysts say that China’s increasing assertiveness is a key motivation behind the AUKUS agreement.

But Beijing has accused Washington, London and Canberra of a "Cold War mentality." It insisted that the alliance was embarking on a "path of error and danger."

Albanese told the Lowy Institute that the alliance would promote peace.

"The submarine technology we are securing through AUKUS will deliver Australia the single-biggest boost to our defense and deterrence capability in our history,” he said. "It will transform our ability to contribute to the stability and security of the region."

Tim Harcourt, chief economist at the University of Technology Sydney, told VOA on Thursday that the Canberra government has managed to stabilize relations with China.

"I think in terms of foreign policy, the Albanese government has been quite successful,” he said. “It has lowered the temperature on China without giving up Australia’s interests, and it has worked very strongly on other allies in the Indo-Pacific, particularly with our Pacific partners. And also, he has really geed up our India relationship and relationship with countries like South Korea and Japan. So, he has been relatively successful in this part of the world."

Albanese also spoke of Australia being "part of the solution to climate change." His government has legislated a target to cut carbon emissions by 43% from 2005 levels by 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Environmental campaigners insist, however, that the government needs to do more to ensure those targets are met.

The increasing incidence of natural disasters in Australia, including devastating flooding this month in Queensland state, has raised concerns among politicians, activists and scientists about the impacts of global warming.