Australia calls ambassadors home to reshape foreign policy, trade

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will call home all of its overseas ambassadors for a meeting, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday, as it reshapes its foreign policy to balance ties with long-time ally the United States and China, its largest trading partner.

Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop speaks during a news conference at the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, March 1, 2017. AAP/Mick Tsikas/via REUTERS

It is the first time Australia has brought together all of its top diplomats from their 113 missions around the world. The aim is to draw up a “white paper” to guide Australian diplomacy for the next decade, the first document of its kind since 2003.

“At a time of significant global uncertainty, it is vital that Australia harness the experience and intellect of our most senior diplomats,” Bishop said in a statement.

She said the meeting later this month would focus on a broad reset of Australia’s approach to international relations and trade.

Australia’s relations with China have been strained recently by a pushback against foreign investment by an increasingly conservative parliament in Canberra.

It also hit a low point in its relationship with the United States after a rancorous phone call between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and new U.S. President Donald Trump, during which the pair clashed over a planned refugee swap.

Kim Beazley, Australia’s former ambassador to the United States and a former leader of the opposition Labor Party, said the U.S. relationship was vital, not only because of their long-standing strategic alliance but also because of the amount of investment plowed into Australia.

“I am more worried in economic terms about Trump discouraging American investment globally than I am about the possibilities of a trade war between the U.S. and China,” Beazley told Reuters by telephone.

The ambassadors will meet in Canberra for two days with Turnbull, Bishop, and Trade Minister Steven Ciobo, with the white paper scheduled to be delivered around the middle of the year.

Alexandra Oliver, lead researcher on Australia’s white paper at Sydney-based think tank the Lowy Institute, said a global political shift had challenged traditional foreign policy-making.

“Concerns about immigration, about terrorism, about globalization, about global free trade - all of those assumptions that we have held to be for the common global good are in question now,” Oliver said.

“It would be foolish to say it is just the Trump presidency that’s caused this, these are broader social movements that are evident in developments like Brexit and in the way that Europe appears to be fracturing at the edges, if not at the center,” she said.

Reporting by Aaron Bunch and Tom Westbrook; Additional reporting by Swati Pandey; Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Paul Tait