Australian Defence Minister to visit France, Germany, Britain to boost ties

The visit will be the first trip by Defence Minister Richard Marles to the countries since centre-left Labor took power in Australia. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia's defence minister said on Sunday (Aug 28) he would work to deepen defence ties with France, Germany and Britain on a visit this week to the European partners, saying war in Ukraine has increased the importance of cooperation with like-minded nations.

The visit, from Aug 29 to Sept 1, will be the first trip by Defence Minister Richard Marles to the countries since centre-left Labor took power in Australia after a general election in May.

Mr Marles is set to meet with counterparts during the mission, which the government said was a chance to show Australia's commitment to stronger European defence ties.

The France stop would help "restore and renew" their bilateral relationship, the government said, calling France one of Australia's "oldest and most capable partners".

Australia in June reached a €555 million (S$770 million) settlement with French military shipyard Naval Group over a decision last year to scrap a multi-billion dollar French submarine deal.

Canberra hoped the settlement would help repair a rift between the nations after the deal was ditched in favour of an agreement with the United States and Britain to build nuclear-powered submarines with US and British technology under a new alliance dubbed Aukus.

This week's trip would also see Mr Marles participate in a roundtable with defence industry representatives in Germany, while in Britain he will visit shipyards, the government said.

"Our relationship with the United Kingdom is both historic and mutually beneficial, and is reflected through our continued commitment to Aukus," Mr Marles said in a statement.

"My visit to Europe comes at a time when the war in Ukraine has shown the importance of increasing cooperation with likeminded partners, both in Europe and the Indo-Pacific."

The trip comes after Mr Marles in June visited Japan to promote bilateral defence cooperation in a bid to counterbalance China's growing military influence in Asia.

Also on Sunday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said she would travel this week to nearby Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Timor-Leste. 

Australia has moved to bolster relations in the Pacific amid growing Chinese influence, including a security pact between China and Solomon Islands in April. 

Ms Wong said she would meet PNG counterpart Justin Tkatchenko, recently re-elected Prime Minister James Marape and members of PNG’s new Cabinet. 

From PNG, Ms Wong will travel on Wednesday to Timor-Leste and meet officials including President Jose Ramos-Horta, Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and Foreign Minister Adaljiza Magno.

She said she planned to discuss issues such as Australian support for Timor-Leste’s economic development and its bids to join Asean and the World Trade Organization. 

“Australia is committed to working together with both Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste in the interests of a stable, resilient and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” Ms Wong said. 

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