BLUF

Australia’s close relationship with the Republic of Korea has just gotten closer following the 2021 meeting between defence and foreign affairs ministers.

Summary

This year, Australia and the Republic of Korea (ROK) celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations. And, this year’s 2+2 foreign and defence ministers’ meeting, held on 13 September, reflected an expanding security agenda between the two countries. Three features of this year’s joint Statement are particularly noteworthy:
  1. A combination of shared crises has increased the importance of the partnership. 
  2. The increased prominence of the United States in the bilateral relationship suggests a shifting attitude towards networked allied defence. 
  3. Australia and the ROK have an ongoing commitment to promoting international peace and prosperity that should not be overlooked.
This year’s joint Statement devotes an entire opening section to the Covid-19 pandemic. Coordinating vaccine production and distribution to Southeast Asian and Pacific neighbours is an example of accomplishing more together than alone. China also casts a long shadow over the joint Statement, although it is not mentioned directly. The Statement’s focus on vaccines, supply chains, energy and trade diversification are all areas where Australia and the ROK have identified vulnerabilities to potential Chinese coercion. This year’s Statement explicitly describes the Australia–ROK relationship as having ‘shared values of freedom, democracy, universal human rights and the rule of law’. And, the ROK finally appears to be reciprocating Australia’s longstanding interest in closer military ties.