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A Visit From Down Under
Australia Looks to Strengthen Ties With US on Cybersecurity

Australia’s new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is making the rounds in Washington this week. He’s been trying to demonstrate that he hopes to work more closely with the United States on critical issues like counterterrorism. To that end, his office has announced an annual Aussie–U.S. cybersecurity dialogue conference. ZDNet:

The annual dialogue will be jointly convened by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and according to Turnbull, it will engage senior representatives from both countries’ business, academic, and government sectors to discuss common cyber threats, promote cybersecurity innovation, and shape new business opportunities.

“We will continue to work closely together to ensure the internet remains open, free, and secure by promoting peacetime ‘norms’ for cyberspace,” Turnbull said.

“Like the US, Australia supports a cyberspace in which nations abide by international law and their behaviour is supported by agreed norms — or standards for appropriate conduct.

Turnbull’s official statement doesn’t mention China, but that’s very likely the reason Canberra feels the need to build support for this dialogue. Chinese hackers have been fingered in several major cyberattacks on Australian government and corporate servers over the past few years.

The Prime Minister’s failure to mention China may fit a pattern; Turnbull is part of the “China school” of Australian foreign policy, which holds that the country needs to balance more between the U.S. and China. Visiting CSIS headquarters on Monday, Turnbull said he takes Xi Jinping at his word and believes that China does not plan on starting wars or creating military conflicts.

Meanwhile, regional powers like the Philippines and Japan hope Australia will end its policy of neutrality in the South China Sea and side with them. In December, Turnbull released a statement with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe that encouraged everyone to refrain from building on disputed land, and on Monday, he expressed hopes that international law can solve the problem. Given that one country (China) is building a lot more than any other, many other Pacific powers may think Canberra is kowtowing to Beijing. Although we’re sympathetic to Australia’s strategic challenges, it’s hard to disagree with that analysis.

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