ATHENS — Australia’s foreign minister started a European tour in Athens on Wednesday, welcoming a recent initiative by the European Union to boost its presence in the Indo-Pacific region despite a spat with EU member France over the cancellation of a major submarine order.
The initiative was announced in September and includes plans to increase a naval presence by EU member states and build stronger defense ties with countries in the region.
“There is no question that, globally, we are facing a more strategically contested environment and it has never been more important to work together in support of international rules, norms and standards,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne told reporters in Athens.
“Australia strongly supports the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. The EU’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific is key to upholding rules and norms and supporting states’ resilience.”
Payne will visit Belgium and Austria after her stop in Greece, and will meet in Brussels with EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.
The EU initiative follows a defense pact announced between the United States, Britain and Australia, triggering the cancellation of a submarine order from France worth more than $40 billion. The pact is seen as a response to China’s increasing military might.
“Greece & Australia operate in respect of International Law, Law of the Sea”
Greece and Australia are dedicated to following International Law, unlike other countries in the region, noted Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias after his meeting with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne in Athens on Wednesday.
Despite the great geographical distance between the two countries, Dendias said, they both support “the same principles and the same values: democracy and human rights, respect for International Law and especially the Law of the Sea, the need for peaceful resolution of disputes, and the prohibition of the threat of violence, as explicitly stated in the United Nations Charter.”
The Greek minister noted that he was satisfied “with the way Australia views the Law of the Sea and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”
There is also a lot of opportunity to further strengthen bilateral economic relations, especially after the significant Australian investment in Greece in the issue of the electricity distribution network, he added.
Payne, who is the first Australian foreign minister to visit Athens in 10 years, said that Greece and Australia “are two maritime states that support efforts to de-escalate tensions in sea regions under International Law.” Moreover, she said, “they share historical ties between their peoples and common values,” she noted.
“Our relationship has been further strengthened by the very large and active Greek community in Australia,” she added, and continued to say that it is “a vibrant community which contributes significantly to the business sector, to investment, to culture. (…) It is one of the largest expatriate communities in the world.”
The Australian minister underlined that “as nations, we also share historical ties through the presence of Australian soldiers in two World Wars.”