Latest figures track aid priorities . . .
Australian announcements this past week around funding, policy, and military upgrades highlight how that country’s government is shifting its international focus. This week’s Australian Senate budget estimates, for instance, show a clear shift over the past five years toward an Indo-Pacific engagement strategy prioritizing partners in the Pacific over those in Southeast Asia. The Senate estimates show aid to Southeast Asian was cut by 42 per cent over the past five years, with the biggest aid cuts to the Philippines (44%), Laos (41%), and Cambodia (33%). In contrast, aid to Pacific Islands increased by 17 per cent during the same period.
Australian government seeking a counter to China? . . .
On the heels of the Senate estimates, Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Alex Hawke, announced on Wednesday the country’s new international development policy, which will see an even stronger shift towards funding in infrastructure, regional security, and finance platforms in the Pacific. Simultaneously, Australia says it will continue to move away from its earlier aid model in Southeast Asia in favour of a new mode of engagement emphasizing strategic and economic partnerships. Referencing an increasingly “assertive China,” Hawke indicated that plans to fund Pacific infrastructure and security while striking new partnerships with Southeast Asian countries would allow Australia to maintain international rules and norms in the face of a rising power in the region.
Australia seeks backing from the US, Canada . . .
Minister Hawke also emphasized Australia’s interest in working with “traditional partners” like the United States, New Zealand, the U.K., Canada, and France on Indo-Pacific issues. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, meanwhile, announced a C$1-billion upgrade to an airbase in Australia’s Northern Territory, promising to “increase the reach of [Australian] Air Force capabilities in the Indo-Pacific.” While ostensibly not directed at China, the airbase’s strategic location, Morrison’s touting of the Canberra-Washington alliance, and the announcement’s timing – during increased tensions with Beijing, and after this week’s pivots in funding and policy announcements – all indicate that Australia is seeking to rebuild its share of regional influence.
- Devex: Australia's new international policy directions revealed
- The New York Times: Australia to spend $726 million to upgrade strategic northern airbase
- Pro Bono Australia: Australia steps down aid in Asia, as it steps up in the Pacific