Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for Australia

Newsline: Diplomacy prevails around empty embassy sites in Canberra

The National Capital Authority has asked the Russian Embassy to get a move on with its Forster Crescent block, which is lying undeveloped in Yarralumla despite earlier calls to use it or lose it. Last month authority chief planner Andrew Smith confirmed he had written to the embassy asking about the status of the land, where a large fence surrounds a site where grass grows over mounds of dirt and unpacked bricks are piled. The Yarralumla block is in the diplomatic enclave and within view of Parliament House. Russia was reported to be starting work in 2015, but last year, it revealed that the builder it had engaged to develop the site had gone broke. Also in 2015, Iran was given a deadline of early 2015 to start construction at its prime Yarralumla block which had been sitting empty for about 20 years. But around the corner from the Russian block, across from the sprawling United States mission, a block leased by the Iranian Embassy remains empty. Although the Iranian mission had plans to develop the site this year, it has been stymied by the recent death of the architect it engaged to oversee a new building. These are just two examples of an ongoing problem with leases on Canberra’s diplomatic estate, overseen by the National Capital Authority. The “use it or lose policy”, introduced as part of an inquiry launched in 2012 into vacant embassy blocks, has forced many diplomatic missions to stop stalling on plans to develop their allocated land, or risk giving it up for other nations. But while there is no more free land in Canberra’s diplomatic areas, Mr Smith said there were still at least 12 parcels of land in Yarralumla, Deakin and O’Malley that are leased by foreign missions but remain undeveloped, although all the lessees had taken action to prove there were plans “in the pipeline”. In the meantime, the authority has been told to expect “one or two countries” to seek permission to establish missions in Canberra annually over the next 20 years, while still managing the ongoing demand for expanded or relocated missions. Other options, such as allowing existing embassies to subdivide their sites and hand back existing land, or to establish missions in commercial areas, have been successful, but many countries still, unsurprisingly, want large sites to build free-standing embassies or compounds.



Newsline: Chinese ambassador calls on Australia to drop ‘Cold War mentality’

China’s ambassador to Australia said on Tuesday “less bias and bigotry” was needed to repair bilateral relations amid concerns over Chinese influence in Australia and its use of loans to build leverage over poorer South Pacific island nations. “We need to see each other’s development and policy intentions from a more positive perspective with less Cold War mentality,” Cheng Jingye said in a speech to politicians and business leaders in Canberra. Relations between Canberra and Beijing have soured since Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull accused China late last year of meddling in domestic affairs, and as concern at China’s influence in the region has grown. Editorials in Chinese state media, including the China Daily and the Global Times, on Tuesday accused Australia of arrogance and taking a “distorted view on relations”.


Newsline: Australia rules out moving its Israel embassy to Jerusalem

Australia will not be following Donald Trump’s lead and moving its embassy to Jerusalem, Julie Bishop has said, despite strong support from the party’s base. The Liberal Party’s youth arm had called on the government to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s legislative capital, and to suspend all aid to Palestine “until it terminates its ‘Martyr’s fund”. The motion, which is non-binding, was carried in a vote 43 to 31, but the foreign minister said there was no chance the government would adopt it as policy. There are 110 council delegates who have voting rights at the national council. “While I understand the sentiment behind this resolution, the Australian government will not be moving our embassy to Jerusalem,” Bishop said. “Jerusalem is a final status issue and we have maintained that position for decades and we are doing all we can do to ensure that any support we give to the Palestinian Authority is only used for purposes that we determine.”


Newsline: Diplomat says China shunned Australia’s minister

China rejected a request for a senior bilateral meeting during a recent visit by Australia’s trade minister, a high-ranking diplomat said on Thursday, as relations between the two major trading partners fray. Frances Adamson, secretary of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), told a parliamentary committee that Trade Minister Steven Ciobo met with the mayor of Shanghai during his visit in mid-May, after an attempt to meet with his ministerial counterpart was rebuffed. “We indicated to the Chinese that a meeting with Mr Ciobo’s counterpart would have been welcomed,” Adamson said on Thursday during a scheduled parliamentary briefing. “He would have been willing to travel to Beijing for a meeting with his Chinese counterpart if that had been possible.” Relations between the two trading partners have been severely tested just two years into a free trade pact amid moves by Australia to limit foreign influence, spurring legislation banning foreign political donations.


Newsline: There is still no US Ambassador to Australia

Last week’s sudden announcement that the man assigned as the next United States ambassador to Australia will instead be posted to South Korea has generated concern among some commentators. US President Donald Trump nominated Admiral Harry Harris as ambassador to Canberra in February. Former Ambassador John Berry left his post in September 2016, meaning it has been vacant for 19 months. Former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer has described the delay in appointing a new ambassador as an “insult and with impact”, while former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has claimed that “Australia, from President Trump’s perspective, is a second-class ally”. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, though, has said he can “well understand” the decision to reallocate Harris to South Korea, given the Admiral’s expertise.


Newsline: Russian ambassador lashes out at Australian media’s ‘disgraceful’ coverage

Russia’s ambassador has called Australia’s media “disgraceful” for its coverage of the expulsion of two Russian diplomats accused of being spies in Canberra over the Skripal poisoning in the UK. Grigory Logvinov spent almost an hour conducting a free-wheeling media conference in Canberra last week, denying Russia was involved with the nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury. In a statement released on Tuesday, Logvinov lashed out at the reporters, who he said had humiliated themselves by asking about the poisoning. “There is no real evidence of the Russian involvement in poisoning of the Skripals,” Logvinov said in the statement. “It was verified once again during the press conference, when the journalists put forward just repetitions of the unfounded accusations and personal attacks (first of all, humiliating for themselves) against all my reasonable arguments.”


Newsline: Russian ambassador to Australia says US surveillance equipment gave Washington embassy staff cancer

Russia’s embassy in Washington has thanked the Russian ambassador to Australia for reminding them they work in “dangerous conditions” after he claimed staff were getting cancer from American surveillance equipment. But the United States State Department has fired back, stating Moscow should not play the victim. In an extraordinary press conference this week, ambassador Grigory Logvinov fielded questions from Australian journalists for more than an hour as he downplayed his country’s role in the attempted assassination of a former double agent and his daughter in England. Amid Mr Logvinov’s claims — which included whether Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal were actually poisoned — he alleged Russians were victims, not of a nerve agent, but of radiation coming from equipment surrounding their embassy in Washington.