On 27 October 2020, Prof Caitlin Byrne, Director of Griffith Asia Institute and Faculty Fellow of the University of Southern California’s Centre for Public Diplomacy, delivered a talk at the RSIS Webinar titled “Between Ambition and Ambivalence: Australian Diplomacy in an Era of Strategic Change”. Prof Byrne acknowledged that the COVID-19 outbreak has brought enormous pressure on the practice of diplomacy around the globe, with Australia being no exception.
Prof Byrne spoke about what it means to be Australian both in the region and in the world under the evolving challenges. She opined that Australian domestic interest in and support for diplomacy had been myopic, as demonstrated in the recent budget outcomes. And yet, the broader strategic dynamics of the region would demand for more ambitious and active diplomacy. In fact, Canberra’s 2017 foreign policy white paper had described the country as a “regional power with global interests” — highlighting unambiguously the ambition in Australia’s foreign-policy rhetoric.
Prof Byrne also discussed the forces of ambition and ambivalence in contemporary Australian diplomacy – a dilemma accentuated by the COVID-19 outbreak. While these forces worked in different ways, they sometimes overlapped due to the nature, conduct and reach of Australia’s outward engagement, in particular within its own region. At the same time, their exerted an internal influence over the nation’s discourse about its place in the world.
Prof Byrne concluded her session by reviewing past trends, noting that Australia in its nation-building has tended towards openness over insularity, engagement over isolation, and activism over passivity.
Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel: