The foreign relations of Australia have spanned from the country's time as Dominion and later Realm of the British Empire to its position as a steadfast ally of the United States throughout the Cold War to its engagement with Asia as a power in its own right. Its relations with the international community are influenced by its position as a leading trading nation and as a significant donor of humanitarian aid.
Australia's foreign policy is guided by a commitment to multilateralism and regionalism, as well as to strong bilateral relations with its allies. Key concerns include free trade, terrorism, economic cooperation with Asia and stability in the Asia-Pacific. Australia is active in the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations.
Its first major independent foreign policy action was to conclude an agreement in 1944 with New Zealand dealing with the security, welfare, and advancement of the people of the independent territories of the Pacific (the ANZAC pact). After the war, Australia played a role in the Far Eastern Commission in Japan and supported Indonesian independence during that country's revolt against the Dutch (1945-49). Australia was one of the founders of both the United Nations and the South Pacific Commission (1947), and in 1950, it proposed the Colombo Plan to assist developing countries in Asia. In addition to contributing to UN forces in the Korean War - it was the first country to announce it would do so after the United States - Australia sent troops to assist in putting down the communist revolt in Malaya in 1948-60 and later to combat the Indonesian-supported invasion of Sarawak in 1963-65. Australia also sent troops to assist South Vietnamese and U.S. forces in Vietnam and joined coalition forces in the Persian Gulf conflict in 1991. Australia has been active in the Australia-New Zealand-United Kingdom agreement and the Five-Power Defence Arrangement--successive arrangements with Britain and New Zealand to ensure the security of Singapore and Malaysia. Australian forces intervened in East Timor which was at the time a Province of Indonesia. Australia helped to liberate the people of East Timor and in 2002 allowed for the state of East Timor to be formed. The state has ongoing problems with civil strife. Australia recently sent a contingent of Australian troops to the state in order to assist in the 2006 East Timor crisis.
One of the drafters of the UN Charter, Australia has given firm support to the United Nations and its specialised agencies. It was a member of the Security Council in 1986-87, a member of the Economic and Social Council in 1986-89, and a member of the UN Human Rights Commission in 1994-96. Australia takes a prominent part in many other UN activities, including peacekeeping, disarmament negotiations, and narcotics control. Australia also is active in meetings of the Commonwealth Heads of Government and the South Pacific Forum, and has been a leader in the Cairns Group — countries pressing for agricultural trade reform in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations — and in the APEC forum. 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.
Australia has devoted particular attention to relations between developed and developing nations, with emphasis on the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Brunei — 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. Australia was a participant at the inaugural ASEAN sponsored East Asia Summit in 2005. Australia's place at the summit was only secured after it agreed to reverse its policy and sign ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Australia had been reluctant to sign the treaty out of concerns regarding how it would effect Australia's obligation under other treat arrangements including ANZUS.
Australia has a large bilateral aid programme (about $1.3 billion for 1997-98, mostly in the form of grants) under which some 60 countries receive assistance. Papua New Guinea (PNG), a former Australian trust territory, is the largest recipient of Australian assistance. Starting in 1997-99 Australia contributed to the IMF program for Thailand and assisted Indonesia and PNG with regional environmental crisis and drought relief efforts.
Australia is party to the Australia, New Zealand, United States security treaty (ANZUS).
Australia-Japan relations have elements of tension as well as acknowledged mutuality of strong interests, beliefs and friendship. Memories of World War II linger among the Australian public, as does a contemporary fear of Japanese economic domination over countries, particularly Australia, although such fears have fallen off in response to Japan's economic stagnation in the 1990s. At the same time, government and business leaders see Japan as a vital export market and an essential element in Australia's strong future growth and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region.
Australia is also a highly predominant source of food and raw materials for Japan. In 1990 Australia accounted for 5.3 percent of total Japanese imports, a share that held relatively steady in the late 1980s. Due to its ability to export raw materials, Australia had a trade surplus with Japan. Australia was the largest single supplier of coal, iron ore, wool, and sugar to Japan in 1990. Australia is also a supplier of uranium. Japanese investment by 1988 made Australia the single largest source of Japanese regional imports. The ban on American and Canadian beef recently made Australia the largest supplier of beef in Japan. Resource development projects in Australia attracted Japanese capital, as did trade protectionism by necessitating local production for the Australian market. Investments in Australia totaled US$8.1 billion in 1988, accounting for 4.4 percent of Japanese direct investment abroad. Australia and Japanese relations will very likely continue to grow throughout the future, and have been for a very long time now.
Overall Australia's largest trading partners are the United States, Japan, China, and the United Kingdom. Australia currently has bilateral Free Trade Agreements with New Zealand, the United States, Thailand and Singapore.
Australia has a number of ongoing international disputes. Its territorial claim to Antarctica in the form of the Australian Antarctic Territory is suspended by the Antarctic Treaty. Australia's role in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq without UN sanction has been a cause of protest. Presently, there is tension in Australia's relations with Indonesia over the release of Abu Bakar Bashir as well as Australia's recent decision to grant temporary protection visas to 42 West Papuans, after which Indonesia's ambassador was recalled. There was also strained relations between the two countries in 2004-05 when convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby was imprisoned for 20 years for possessing 4.2kg of marijuana, which she claims was not hers. Many Australians believe that Corby is innocent and that the Indonesian trial was not fair as they did not review the evidence put forward by the Corby defence team.
A recent foreign relations dispute came to light when, on the 12 September 2006, the Australian High Commissioner in Honiara, Solomon Islands — Patrick Cole — was labelled persona non grata by the Solomon Islands government. The incident marked the beginning of a diplomatic dispute between the two nations, with the Australian federal government and in particular the Prime Minister implementing diplomatic changes including new visa requirements on Solomon Islands diplomats.
Australia has diplomatic representatives in most countries. Australia has official relations with a number of countries, with these countries it maintains an embassy or in the case of Commonwealth countries, a high commission. Australia has consulates in many countries where there are no official government ties, these serve primarily to assist Australian travellers and business people. A number of Canadian missions provide consular assistance to Australians in countries in Africa where Australia does not maintain an office. Australia also maintains a Representative Office in the Palestinian Authority.
- This article incorporates public domain material from the CIA World Factbook website https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html.
- 2003 U.S. Department of State website.
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- Australia House (Ottawa)
- List of Australians in international prisons
- Anti-Australian sentiment
- Defence of Australia Policy
- Australia and the United Nations