16 Apr

'Leaders’ summit pushes stronger Commonwealth ties' Dennis Shanahan, The Australian


Australia is joining Britain in ­efforts to revive and strengthen the Commonwealth to bolster global trade and security in the face of Brexit and unprecedented Chinese influence in Africa and the South Pacific.

Julie Bishop is working with Britain to expand membership ­beyond traditional English-speaking nations, especially Francophone countries, as Britain’s trade rules with the EU are rewritten and efforts are made to counter Chinese influence.

The Foreign Minister will be attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, starting in London this week, along with Malcolm Turnbull, with the Prime Minister to meet British counterpart Theresa May to discuss trade ­and security ­issues as Britain prepares to withdraw from the EU.

Ms Bishop begins four days of meetings in London today focusing on the ramifications of Brexit and the ­future role of the ­Commonwealth.

“The British are keen to have a great revival of the Commonwealth at this London meeting, with the royal family playing a big role, and there is a strong emphasis on trade after Brexit,” Ms ­Bishop told The Australian.

“There is a big push to extend the Commonwealth beyond its old colonial image with a campaign to include new members which were not under British control. Mozambique has been ­admitted and others are trying.”

The admission of former French-controlled nations is strengthening French links to the Commonwealth and acting as a counterweight to China’s influence in Africa and the South ­Pacific. Ms Bishop said Australia helped former French-controlled territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia join the Pacific Islands Forum and was backing British efforts to get new members for the Commonwealth from non-English speaking countries in Africa and the Caribbean.

“It is important to encourage French support in the Pacific and it is also important to ensure that British aid for the South Pacific continues at the same level after the British departure from the EU,” she said.

There is also a move to ­increase Indian involvement in a revived Commonwealth committed to the rule of law and free trade.

Counter-terrorism and ­cyber-crime are also key elements of the new agenda for the group.

Mr Turnbull will fly to London tomorrow. After meeting Mrs May, he will go to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and business leaders to advocate for the “strategic and economic benefits of an Australia-EU free-trade agreement”.

He will then travel to Brussels, where he will press the case for the trade agreement with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. He will also raise the matter of Australia’s contribution to operations in ­Afghanistan with NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg.

The trip will conclude in Villers-Bretonneux, where Mr Turnbull will open, along with French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, the Sir John Monash Centre honouring Australians who served on the Western Front.

“While in Villers-Bretonneux, I will also attend the Anzac Day dawn service commemorating 100 years since Australian units bravely led a counter attack to successfully defend the village,” Mr Turnbull said.

There will be leaders from 53 countries in London for the 2018 CHOGM and about 5000 participants from government, business and civil society.

As well as meetings of foreign ministers and Commonwealth leaders, there will be forums covering youth, women, business and civil society, as well as the ­official retreat for leaders at Windsor Castle on Friday.

Commonwealth secretary-general Patricia Scotland said: “CHOGM 2018 promises to deliver transformational change for the people of the Commonwealth. Presidents and prime ministers and high-level government representatives from one-quarter of the countries of the world are assembling. They will reach agreement on collective ­action, with the impact ... likely to extend far beyond the boundaries of the Commonwealth.”

It is expected Prince Charles will be appointed head of the Commonwealth in place of the Queen as she celebrates her 92nd birthday on Saturday.

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