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Foreign Relations

Australia's foreign policy revolves around relations with the United States, Japan, China, and Indonesia. Throughout its history, Australia has been a close ally of the United States, and the two nations continue to maintain a close political, military, and economic relationship. Despite a wide-ranging consensus on regional issues and counterterrorism, Australia has expressed concern about the failure of the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or to sign the Biological Weapons Convention. Australia participated in United States-led military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s. The United States is a major trading partner, and the two nations concluded a free-trade agreement that went into effect on January 1, 2005. At the same time, Australia has increasingly close economic ties with China, with which it is pursuing a similar free-trade agreement. The achievement of free-trade agreements with both the United States and China would be a first among major nations.

Australia is attempting to balance its budding friendship with China and its long-standing friendship with the United States. This balancing act could face a critical test should China ever attempt to use force against Taiwan. Complicating matters, Australia also is seeking to maintain a historically strong relationship with Japan, another rival of China. Australia's relations with Indonesia took a turn for the better in January when Australia provided US$770 million of aid to help Indonesia recover from the December 2004 tsunami that devastated the province of Aceh. In April 2005, the two nations agreed to a "comprehensive partnership." Relations between the two nations had suffered a severe setback in 1999 when Australia supported a United Nations-led intervention in East Timor, which had declared independence from Indonesia.

Australia has historically had a close relationship with neighboring New Zealand, based on common economic and security interests. Nevertheless, relations between the two have been strained by conflicting views of U.S. foreign policy and defense requirements. Australia has been critical of what it perceives as New Zealand's inadequate spending on defense, and New Zealand has criticized Australia's support for U.S. foreign policy initiatives.

Australia has been an active participant in international affairs since federation in 1901, and Australian forces have fought beside the United States and other Allies in every significant conflict since World War I. On January 8, 1940, the governments of the United States and Australia announced the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations. In 1944, Australia concluded an agreement with New Zealand dealing with the security, welfare, and advancement of the people of the independent territories of the Pacific (the ANZAC pact).

After World War II, Australia played a role in the Far Eastern Commission in Japan and supported Indonesian independence during that country's revolt against the Dutch. Australia was one of the founding members of the United Nations, the South Pacific Commission, and the Colombo Plan. In addition to contributing to UN forces in Korea--it was the first country to announce it would do so after the United States--Australia sent troops to fight the 1948-1960 communist revolt in Malaya and later to combat the 1963-1965 Indonesian-supported invasion of Sarawak. The United States, Australia, and New Zealand signed the ANZUS Treaty in 1951, which remains Australia's pre-eminent formal security treaty alliance. Australia sent troops to assist South Vietnamese and U.S. forces in Vietnam, and joined coalition forces in the Persian Gulf conflict in 1991, in Afghanistan in 2001, and in Iraq in 2003.

Australia has been active in the Australia-New Zealand-U.K. Agreement and the Five-Power Defence Arrangements--successive arrangements with Britain and New Zealand to ensure the security of Singapore and Malaysia. Australia participates in a Trilateral Security Dialogue with the United States and Japan. One of the drafters of the UN Charter, Australia has given firm support to the United Nations and its specialized agencies. It was a member of the UN Economic and Social Council 1986-1989, and a member of the UN Human Rights Commission 1994-1996 and 2003-2005.

Australia sought a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2013-2014; it was last a member 1985-1986. Australia takes a prominent part in many other UN activities, including peacekeeping, nonproliferation and disarmament negotiations, and narcotics control. Australia also is active in the G20, the Commonwealth Heads of Government, the Pacific Islands Forum, the Cairns Group--countries pressing for agricultural trade reform in World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations--and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, of which it is a founding member. In 2002, Australia joined the International Criminal Court.

Australia has devoted particular attention to relations between developed and developing nations, with emphasis on the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the island states of the South Pacific. Australia is an active participant in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which promotes regional cooperation on security issues, and has been a member of the East Asia Summit (EAS) since its inauguration in 2005. Prime Minister Rudd's government argued that the Asia-Pacific area needs a regional body that addresses both security and economic issues; as Foreign Minister, Rudd said this concept was reflected in the expanded East Asian Summit.

Australia was active in urging the United States and Russia to participate in the EAS, which both countries officially joined in 2011. In September 1999, acting under a UN Security Council mandate, Australia led an international coalition to restore order in East Timor upon Indonesia's withdrawal from that territory. In 2006, Australia participated in an international peacekeeping operation in Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor). Australia led a regional mission to restore law and order in Solomon Islands in 2003 and again in 2006. Australia is part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, which also includes the United States. The government is committed to increasing official development assistance to 0.5% of gross national income by 2015-2016 (est. A$8 billion, about U.S. $8 billion). Australia budgeted $A4.8 billion (U.S. $5.1 billion) for FY 2011-2012 and A$4.35 billion (U.S. $4.7 billion) in FY 2010-2011. The Australian aid program provides development assistance to 75 countries and is concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region (Papua New Guinea and Indonesia are the largest recipients). Selected aid flows are allocated to Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. Australia also delivers aid through several multilateral organizations, including the United Nations, the World Bank, and UNICEF. Contributions to global programs and other expenses account for 38% of the foreign assistance budget.

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Page last modified: 18-11-2020 11:44:09 ZULU