UK ministers visit Australia to strengthen defence, trade ties

In the aftermath of the Aukus pact between the two countries and the US, the UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, and the defence minister, Ben Wallace, will visit to Australia to try to strengthen security and trade links.

The willingness of two key cabinet members to leave the UK at a time of high domestic political tension, with Boris Johnson’s future as Prime Minister in doubt and the threat of a Russian invasion in Ukraine, demonstrates the importance the Conservative government places on the Australian relationship.

The UK has made a post-Brexit pivot to the Indo-Pacific a priority in its foreign and security policy, saying that the region will experience strong economic growth this century.

With its support for free and open seas, the United Kingdom has proved, like Australia, that it is willing to disagree with China on topics such as Taiwan and human rights in the former British colony of Hong Kong.

In September, the United Kingdom surprised everyone by declaring that it would join the United States and Australia in a new security pact, the centrepiece of which was a commitment by the US to share its technology on how to build and operate nuclear submarines.

The arrangement, which was devised in secret, saw Scott Morrison’s Australian government terminate a $90 billion contract with the French to build more conventional submarines, forcing Paris to pull its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra for consultations, a rare indication of enmity between friends.

Three of France’s closest allies allegedly stabbed the country in the back. There were also claims that Australia, a non-nuclear country, would have exclusive access to nuclear secrets and technology.

Some Australian politicians questioned if the accord had improved Australian security because the new submarines would have a longer range and be less detectable, but they would not be delivered for at least a decade after the French submarines.

Aukus, on the other hand, is meant to be more than a submarine agreement; it will involve information sharing in a variety of technology fields, including artificial intelligence, underwater systems, and long-range strike, cyber, and quantum capabilities.

The foreign minister, Marise Payne, and the defence minister, Peter Dutton, will meet with their Australian counterparts.

“With negative forces threatening global peace and stability, it is crucial that close friends like the UK and Australia show resolute vigilance in defence of freedom and democracy,” Truss said ahead of the visit.

“The Aukus collaboration between the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States demonstrates how we will defend our principles, preserve trade routes, and improve stability across the Indo-Pacific.”

Truss is also expected to commit to a tighter working relationship with Australia in order to increase prospects for “honest and dependable” infrastructure investment in Indo-Pacific countries, particularly in the energy and technology sectors.

She’ll talk about how to improve global technology supply chains and combat malicious actors who destabilise cyberspace.

“One of the oldest and most powerful defence and security relationships in the world exists between the United Kingdom and Australia,” Wallace added.

“By operating and practising side by side, we continue to foster stability and confront our common threats with a like-minded ally.”

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