If 1 nation imagines itself too big for the rules, our regional strategic stability is undermined: Australia PM Albanese - Mothership.SG

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Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese kicked off the 2023 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue on Jun. 2 with a spirited defence of multilateralism, engagement, and an attempt to reassure regional nations over its AUKUS plans.

Countries in the region have agency

The IISS Shangri La Dialogue, for which 2023 is the 20th edition, is a gathering of Asia Pacific defense policy makers and intellectuals, usually attracting a prominent list of participants.

On Jun. 2, the opening keynote speech was delivered by Anthony Albanese, the Australian Prime Minister, whose schedule in Singapore also included the 8th Singapore-Australia Annual Leaders’ Meeting.

He began by saying that the region was often described as a potential theatre for conflict as if the region were “merely a backdrop, a location, an arena for the ambitions of others”, which was a view that was entirely and dangerously wrong.

Such a view dismissed the “agency and ambition of the majority of the world’s population and the engine room of the global economy”.

Conflict is not inevitable

Albanese said that it was equally harmful to assume that conflict in the region was inevitable, as it was to assume that it was impossible, saying the fate of the region was not preordained.

“I can assure you that when Australia looks north, we don’t see a void for others to impose their will. We see growing and modernising economies, the fastest growing region of the world in human history.

We see the drivers of the global transition to net zero. And we see a community of nations whose actions and decisions are essential to building prosperity and preserving peace in the Indo Pacific.”

Key to this was communication between countries, and Albanese said that he supported the United State’s renewed efforts to establish reliable and open channels of communication with China.

He cited Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent speech in China, where he said that big powers had “a heavy responsibility to maintain stable and workable relations with one another”, and silence ran the risk of breeding suspicion between each other, making it easy to misunderstand or assume the worst of each other.

Crash prevention

Albanese said that in order to prevent a “crash”, “there must be a set of rules that serve all of us that use the road”, and that the success of such a rules-based order must both be, and be seen to be, fair, workable, and uphold sovereignty, for big and small powers alike.

“Sovereignty that confers on every nation the right to determine its own destiny, to enjoy freedom of action, and policy independence.

The right to make our own choices to speak for ourselves in our interests, free of external pressure or duress to pursue opportunities for our people without fear of coercion or retribution. To have confidence in the integrity of our borders, including our maritime zones, and control of our own resources.

If this breaks down, if one nation imagines itself too big for the rules, or too powerful to be held to the standards that the rest of us respect, then our region strategic stability is undermined. And now individual national sovereignty is eroded.”

Importance of multilateral institutions

Albanese also gave a robust defence of multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations, as places for middle and small powers to have a seat at the table, and contribute to their collective security, argue constructively and disagree respectfully.

Bilateral dialogue, while vital, was insufficient, especially in a time of strained relations.

While Albanese did not mention China in this portion of the speech, Albanese’s references to maritime zones and resources was possibly a reference to the ongoing South China Sea dispute where China is in dispute with several other countries.

In these disputes, China tends to make use of bilateral agreements in order to settle disputes, and has been seen to bristle in multilateral events, such as the Shangri La Dialogue, where in 2022, it essentially said that the U.S. and allies were dominating the discussion.


Albanese also spoke about AUKUS, the tripartite plan to arm Australia with nuclear-powered, but conventionally-armed, submarines involving Australia, the U.S., and the United Kingdom.

Albanese recently joined the leaders of the U.S. and UK to lay out AUKUS’ roadmap.

But he said that prior to that, he spoke with every Asean and Pacific partner, placing more than 60 calls, in order to be “open and transparent with the region about our intentions”, and that Australia remained committed to preventing nuclear weapons proliferation.

It also intends to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency to “the highest standards for any country acquiring” the ability to power submarines using nuclear energy.

The submarines would be the “single biggest leap” in Australia’s defence capability, and through it, Albanese said that it reflected Australia’s desire to be a more effective contributor to stability in Asia.

Australia aims to prevent war through deterrence and reassurance with its nuclear-powered submarines

Australia’s goal was not to prepare for war, but to prevent it through deterrence and reassurance.

“Doing our part to fulfill the shared responsibility, all of us have, to preserve peace and security.

And making it crystal clear that when it comes to any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force, be it in Taiwan, the South China Sea the East China Sea or elsewhere, the risk of conflict will always far outweigh any potential reward.”

Albanese concluded by saying that the nature or timing of future shocks to the region was unknown, but would depend on collective agency and shared responsibility.

There was no security to be found in isolation, or growth and prosperity from closing off from the world.

“No stability without respect for sovereignty, no lasting peace without engaging with each other and working together,” he said.

Australia was engaged in Asia and the Indo-Pacific, not as a spectator or commentator, but as a champion for peace and prosperity in the region and the world.

The full speech is available here:

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Top image via The International Institute for Strategic Studies/YouTube

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