Vacuous Quad joint statement sets off warning bells
Quad nations

Written by

Peter Jennings

The best that can be said of the statements, declarations, compacts and media transcripts from Anthony Albanese’s meetings in Hiroshima is that they make a thin gruel.

We now have a Climate, Critical Minerals and Clean Energy Transformation Compact with the US, which President Joe Biden was gracious enough to -declare “the third pillar of the Australia-US alliance”.

The Joint Statement says: “Australia and the United States support a global energy transformation, including in the Indo-Pacific, that realises the economic opportunity in climate action through good, well-paying jobs while protecting the environment, accelerating the transition to net zero, and delivering affordable energy to businesses and households.”

Who knows what this really means? If the other two pillars of the alliance are the 1951 ANZUS Treaty and the 2021 AUKUS agreement, it’s clear that the Climate Compact has a long way to go to deliver on substance.

What has made the Australia/US alliance so successful has been a record of practical defence and intelligence co-operation, decisions that put boots on the ground and bullets in the armouries of our defence forces.

There was very little of that on display in Albanese’s engagement with Biden. The President saw the G7 meeting as serious enough to justify the travel. What is equally obvious is that a gossamer-thin Climate Compact didn’t merit an extra 24 hours overseas. No substance means no visit.

Perhaps the most useful thing in the exchange was that Biden has agreed “to ask the United States Congress to add Australia as a domestic source” in American defence production. This will “streamline technological and -industrial base collaboration, accelerate and strengthen AUKUS implementation”.

Albanese said he raised it personally with Biden last March in San Diego. All credit to Albanese if he has secured Biden’s support in dealing with Congress. Then again, one could be forgiven for thinking that smoothing out these road bumps was what was supposed to have happened in the 18-month AUKUS planning phase that ended last March.

Close connections between the country’s political leadership remains vital to delivering AUKUS. That’s why getting Biden to visit Australia was an important objective.

A joint statement of the Quad leaders was released following a short meeting shoe-horned ¬between the end of the G7 and a formal dinner. It’s a disappointing piece of work with a lot of bureaucratic verbiage and distressingly little substance.

Believe it or not the Quad statement doesn’t mention Russia. The statement expresses “our deep concern over the war raging in Ukraine and mourn its terrible and tragic humanitarian consequences”, but the invader and perpetrator of these terrible human rights abuses is not named.

The Quad statement raises concerns about “challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including those in the East and South China Seas”, but Beijing is not mentioned as the source of “destabilising or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo by force or coercion”.

Warning bells rang for me about the essential vacuousness of the Quad joint statement when paragraph 5 began with: “Today we reaffirm our consistent and unwavering support for ASEAN centrality and unity.” Any statement that incorporates the ¬pretence of fealty to ASEAN centrality has spent too long on the hands of diplomatic drafters. Quad leaders should be warned to keep meeting agendas away from officials, otherwise the lack of substance will end the enterprise.

Albanese was questioned about the Quad’s lack of substance on China, compared with the strong language critical of ¬Beijing in the G7 communique.

The Prime Minister responded: “We have said for some time that China’s activity, and we expressed concern for ourselves as well, the chafing of one of our aircraft, the other activities that we’ve seen has provided concern. We’ve expressed concern in the past, we’ll continue to do so.”

Immediately following the May 2022 election, Albanese asserted his international policy authority with strong language against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and pledges to stand up for Australian interests against bullying from Beijing.

Now Albanese talks in veiled terms about “the lack of guardrails that are there in international relations” and calls for the “status quo when it comes to the Taiwan Straits”. By contrast, the G7 statement issued in Hiroshima offers a much plainer assessment of the need for “de-risking and diversifying” away from Beijing.

Lost in the paper storm was a statement from Albanese and Penny Wong titled “Australia Stands with Ukraine and the G7 against Russia’s invasion”.

A handful of Russian companies and individuals have been added to the sanctions list with a plan to “implement a ban on the export of all machinery and ¬related parts to Russia and areas temporarily under Russian ¬control”.

Note though that at a time the G7 was contemplating additional support for Ukraine, Australia has put nothing on the table beyond a “tribute to the unwavering resilience and courage displayed by the Ukrainian people”.

Is it clearer now why Biden saw no good reason to come to Australia?

This article was first published in the Australian.