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date: 06 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Australia’s place on the world stage has evolved dramatically over the past century. Although no longer preoccupied with isolation from the British Empire, Australia grapples with the challenges of its proximity at the apex of a diverse and dynamic Indo-Pacific. While holding out the aspirations of regional power with global interests, the island continent continues to be plagued by anxiety in its pursuit of place in a contested world. This chapter explores the contours of Australia’s contemporary place-making project. Recognizing the complexity of the subject matter, in which dimensions of history, memory, geography, economics, and culture collide, the chapter draws on the nation’s diplomatic practice as a lens through which to view the competing forces of change and continuity at play. It begins by noting that the theoretical underpinnings of Australian diplomacy raise interrelated concerns about material power and powerlessness, national security, and broad cultural values, all of which contribute to Australia’s evolving sense of place over key points in time. Despite claims that Australia’s approach to the outside world is gripped by repetitive impulses to ‘engage or retreat’, this chapter finds that ultimately, the nation’s place-making project tends towards openness over insularity, engagement over isolation, and activism over passivity. The central claim is that Australia’s constructive, yet pragmatic style of diplomacy—in its many forms—plays a critical though undervalued role in positioning the nation on the global and regional stage.

Keywords: diplomacy, Asia-Pacific, Commonwealth, alliance, soft power

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