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Archive for Australia/Oceania

Newsline: New Zealand’s Ardern names ‘incredibly diverse’ cabinet, including first Indigenous woman as top diplomat

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a new cabinet Monday, describing her ministers as an “incredibly diverse” group who are highly qualified for their positions and reflective of “the New Zealand that elected them.” Her cabinet, set to be sworn in Friday, will focus on helping the nation recover from the coronavirus pandemic. It is made up of 20 people, five of whom are Maori, the Indigenous people of New Zealand who make up more than 16 percent of the nation’s population. Eight cabinet members are women. They include Nanaia Mahuta, who will serve as foreign minister, becoming the first woman to do so in New Zealand’s history. She was first elected to Parliament in 1996 and has also served as minister for Maori development and local government. In her new role, she will replace Winston Peters, who lost his reelection bid this year. “She is someone who builds fantastic relationships very, very quickly, and that is one of the key jobs in a foreign affairs role,” Ardern said Monday. “You only need to look at the difficult work that she has had to conduct over, for instance, her local government portfolio, and that to me demonstrates those diplomacy skills that we need to represent New Zealand on the world stage.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/11/02/new-zealand-ardern-cabinet-diversity/) Mahuta has already made history in New Zealand’s Parliament. Four years ago, she began wearing moko kauae, a traditional Maori chin tattoo, becoming the first woman to do so while serving as a lawmaker.

Newsline: France appoints ambassador for Indo-Pacific

France’s top envoy to Australia will become its first ambassador for the Indo-Pacific amid rising concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s growing influence in the region. The move to shift ambassador Christophe Penot from Canberra to the broader economic zone is the sharpest escalation of France’s strategy in the contested area to date, as Germany and France push the European Union to become more assertive in its China strategy. Penot is due to leave next Tuesday and will be replaced in Australia by Jean-Pierre Thebault. Thebault organised the G7 in Biarritz in 2019 and is a former ambassador for the environment. (https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/france-escalates-china-push-appoints-ambassador-for-indo-pacific-20201012-p5647f.html) Penot will be based in Paris but will travel throughout the Indo-Pacific and be responsible for co-ordinating diplomacy across the region. France’s Minister for the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, has pushed for an Indo-Pacific “axis, with France, India and Australia as its backbone” to develop foreign policy as global tensions increase. The trilateral dialogue would work separately from “the Quad”, which includes Japan, the United States, Australia and India and has a security focus.

Newsline: US ambassador avoids New Zealand quarantine on return

United States Ambassador Scott Brown’s diplomatic status has allowed him and his wife to avoid going into quarantine at New Zealand’s border after the couple returned from a trip to their home country this week. Just about everybody who arrives in New Zealand is required to spend 14 days isolated in a government-run hotel that is guarded by the military as the country spends billions of dollars on its efforts to eliminate the coronavirus. But the Browns said Friday they’re isolating themselves at home. New Zealand has stamped out most community transmission of the virus and is focusing much of its efforts on keeping the border safe. The Ministry of Health says that since June 8, there have been 118 diplomats arrive in the country, including the Browns. Of those, 112 have agreed to go into the government-run hotels. But ultimately, officials have no power over diplomats. Because New Zealand has signed the Vienna Convention, which gives diplomats special rights, “we are unable to require diplomatic personnel to enter quarantine or managed isolation,” the ministry said in an email. Brown and his wife arrived back in New Zealand on Thursday after a trip on which Brown met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other dignitaries. Brown said he and his wife tested negative for the virus before leaving the U.S. and had been very careful about wearing masks and observing social distancing guidelines during transit. “Just like everyone else, we will be medically monitored while in isolation and tested again around Day 3 and Day 12,” Brown said in a statement. “We will not leave isolation until those tests come back negative.” (https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/us-ambassador-avoids-zealand-quarantine-return-72672564) The U.S. Embassy said the ambassador’s self-isolation would save New Zealand money and allow him to do his job remotely, which he couldn’t have done otherwise. The embassy said the household staff at the ambassador’s residence near Wellington will remain on leave until the couple complete their isolation. “Even before I left New Zealand, our two governments started exploring how best to manage my return,” Brown said in his statement. The Ministry of Health described that interaction a bit differently, saying New Zealand officials “were informed that Ambassador Brown would self-isolate.” Brown, a former Republican senator from Massachusetts, has close ties with President Donald Trump and was once considered a possible running mate. He plans to return to the U.S. permanently in January.

Newsline: Legal action against Chinese diplomat dismissed in Australia

Legal action by a student activist suing China’s Brisbane consul-general has been dismissed, with a magistrate ruling he has diplomatic immunity. Beijing critic Drew Pavlou made an application under Queensland’s Peace and Good Behaviour Act complaining that Xu Jie had incited violence against him. The complaint followed a protest at University of Queensland during which the Mr Pavlou was assaulted twice, his barrister Tony Morris QC told Brisbane Magistrates Court on Monday. Dr Xu issued a press release after the confrontation, which Mr Morris said incites violence against Mr Pavlou. The release refers to “a small number of people with ulterior motives” carrying out anti-separatist China activities at the University of Queensland. The release said the action caused “indignation and protest from overseas Chinese students”. (https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6871463/action-against-chinese-diplomat-dismissed/) Dr Xu was issued a summons in response to Mr Pavlou’s complaint, but failed to appear in court or send a legal representative. Instead the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade wrote to the court saying Dr Xu was entitled to immunity because he is a consular employee. Magistrate Janelle Brassington on Monday dismissed Mr Pavlou’s application after ruling Dr Xu has immunity because he was performing the functions of a consular officer. Mr Pavlou was suspended in May from the University of Queensland following a disciplinary hearing that examined misconduct allegations reportedly linked to his on-campus activism supporting Hong Kong and criticising the Chinese Community Party. Dr Xu is also an adjunct professor at the university.

Newsline: Australian Embassy building damaged in Beirut blast

At least one Australian was killed, and the Australian Embassy building has been “significantly compromised,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Two Filipino citizens also died from the explosion, and eight others are injured, said a statement from the Philippine Embassy in Beirut. Eleven other Filipino seafarers are still missing. (https://edition.cnn.com/2020/08/05/middleeast/beirut-blast-explainer-intl-hnk/index.html) One Japanese citizen, one Indonesian, and six Turkish citizens were also injured, according to authorities from the three countries.

Newsline: South Korea, New Zealand spar over diplomat in sex harassment case

South Korea and New Zealand are at odds over the case of a South Korean diplomat who has been accused of groping a New Zealand staff member at Seoul’s Embassy in Wellington. The New Zealand government has called on South Korea to waive the man’s diplomatic immunity, but Seoul has agreed to cooperate on the grounds his immunity not be waived, South Korean news service News 1 reported. South Korea’s foreign ministry told reporters on Monday the two countries have been in communication over the case. Seoul will work with the New Zealand government if it requests investigation under the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and extradition. (https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2020/08/03/South-Korea-New-Zealand-spar-over-diplomat-in-sex-harassment-case/6671596458162/) New Zealand has urged Seoul to do more, however. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has “expressed her disappointment that the Korean Government was unable to waive immunity to allow aspects of the police investigation into this matter to proceed,” the prime minister’s office said, according to the New Zealand Herald on Sunday. Ardern recently conveyed her opinions in a phone call with President Moon Jae-in. The diplomat, a former deputy ambassador to New Zealand, has been charged with three counts of sexual misconduct that took place in 2017. The plaintiff in the case, a male employee at the embassy, is currently receiving support from MOSAIC, an advocacy group for male sex abuse survivors, according to the report.

Newsline: South Korea plans to handle diplomat’s sexual harassment in New Zealand

President Moon Jae-in told the leader of New Zealand that his government will handle a sexual harassment allegation involving a senior South Korean diplomat, once based in Wellington, after finding relevant facts, a Cheong Wa Dae official said. Moon had phone talks with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern the previous day. She raised the issue at the end of the 30-minute conversation, the official told reporters. The 2017 case has drawn public attention again since a recent news report in New Zealand. While serving as a counselor at the South Korean Embassy in Wellington at that time, the diplomat was accused of behaving indecently against a local male staffer. The diplomat, whose name remains withheld formally, left the capital city in 2018 and is now serving as consul general in another foreign country. There has reportedly since been little progress in a probe by New Zealand’s police despite a court-issued arrest warrant. Responding to Ardern’s remarks, Moon said, “Related (South Korean) authorities will handle (the matter) after confirming facts,” the Cheong Wa Dae official said on the condition of anonymity. (http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20200729000928) According to sources familiar with the matter, the foreign ministry had probed the diplomat and had cut his salary for a month as a disciplinary measure before reassigning him to the current post.

Newsline: Chinese embassy says travel warning for Australians in China ‘ridiculous’

The Chinese embassy has slammed government travel advice warning Australians they are at risk of “arbitrary detention” in China, labelling the advisory “disinformation” and “ridiculous”. In a statement released on Wednesday, China’s embassy in Canberra fiercely criticised the warning. “Foreigners in China, including the Australians, as long as they abide by the Chinese laws, have no need to worry at all. (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-08/chinese-embassy-says-travel-warning-for-australians-ridiculous/12434872) The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued the new advice on Tuesday, directing it at Australians in mainland China. It also said Chinese authorities had detained foreigners for “endangering national security”. The official statement came after China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian yesterday said the Chinese Government “always protects foreigners’ human rights”. “Any law-abiding citizen in China has nothing to worry about,” he said. DFAT was already advising travellers not to travel to China — or anywhere overseas — because of the coronavirus pandemic. That advice has not changed. Australians are also still banned from leaving the country for overseas travel unless they are granted an exemption by the Federal Government.

Newsline: New Zealand broke into embassies for CIA and MI6

The SIS broke into the Indian High Commission for MI6 and the Iranian Embassy for the CIA in the late 1980s and early 1990s to photograph code books, plant bugs and steal communications. The operations included at least two raids on the Indian High Commission in Wellington in 1989 and 1991 to photograph thousands of pages from the commission’s code books, which were used to encrypt communications. The covert attack on the Indian High Commission was code-named Operation Dunnage and was a joint mission between the New Zealand SIS and Britain’s MI6. Thousands of photographs containing the codes were sent back to the UK so that Britain’s foreign intelligence service could decipher the communications of Indian government officials and diplomats. RNZ has also learned that in the early 1990s the New Zealand SIS targeted the Iranian embassy in Wellington in a mission named Operation Horoscope, which was driven by the CIA. (https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/in-depth/420210/nz-broke-into-embassies-for-cia-and-mi6) The CIA altered circuit boards on a telex machine used by the Iranian Embassy in Wellington, allowing the American intelligence agency to intercept the Iranian’s communications. The SIS entered the embassy for the CIA, photographed the building and installed listening devices supplied by the CIA. Operation Horoscope involved months of covert work and remained active for many years afterwards. RNZ learned about the raids after piecing together information gained after months of engaging with multiple sources in New Zealand, Britain and the US.

Newsline: Australia asks embassy in U.S. to register concern over cameraman

Australia has asked its embassy in the United States to register its concerns with authorities there about an apparent police assault on an Australian cameraman during a protest in Washington, its foreign minister said on Tuesday. Earlier on Tuesday, thousands of Australians marched in Sydney to protest against the death of black American George Floyd in U.S. police custody, after days of demonstrations and clashes in the United States sparked by the killing. The Sydney protest came as Australian police face questions about use of force during the arrest of a teenager of aboriginal descent. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Australian government would support Channel Seven, where the cameraman worked, should it wish to lodge its concerns over the incident in Washington with U.S. authorities through the embassy there. “I want to get further advice on how we would go about registering Australia’s strong concerns with the responsible local authorities in Washington,” Payne told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “So our embassy in the United States will approach the relevant authorities, and Channel Seven will also provide us with their views on how they wish to deal with it.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-minneapolis-police-protests-australia/australia-asks-embassy-in-us-to-register-concern-over-cameraman-idUSKBN23911R) Video footage posted on social media showed Channel 7 correspondent Amelia Brace and cameraman Tim Myers broadcasting live on a street when riot police approached to clear the area, hitting Myers with a shield. The pair are then seen trying to leave the scene while another policeman swung at them with a baton.