Wong defines Australia’s foreign policy ..all the way with the USA

Apr 18, 2023
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Penny Wong addresses the National Press Club in Canberra, Monday, April 17, 2023. Image:AAP / Lukas Coch

At the National Press Club yesterday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong responded to her critics by laying out the role Australia must play in the world as she sees it, in order to help shape the future of our region.

It was an extraordinary feel-good speech that nevertheless sent a very clear message to the region: the vehicle through which Australia will ensure we participate in shaping in the region, is AUKUS – an Anglosphere alliance to steer the Asia Pacific.

Regardless of reassurances and pledges regarding respect, inclusiveness and sovereignty, Asian leaders will understand well the essence of her message, in spite of the dulcet tones, the dignity and gravitas.

It was a tour de force for the assembled media though and showed what she is able to get away with. In what should have been a jaw-dropper, she managed to morph the US into a champion of ‘multipolarity’. Even the US doesn’t claim that. In fact they make it abundantly clear, it’s their way or the highway.

And she coined a useful moniker for our role as ‘Partner not Patriarch in the Pacific.’ She may be reminded of it one day by a Pacific leader, when the need arises.

In a sentence characteristic of much of her address she says:

“When Australians look out to the world, we see ourselves reflected in it – just as the world can see itself reflected in us.”

It’s tempting to let those words settle gently as they are intended to do, but it’s a very superficial statement of how we see the world and how the world sees us.

We are perceived through our major initiatives – in recent times the disastrous military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our Pacific Island neighbours’ view of Australia will have been influenced by our actions with regard to East Timor. And we are now a country where many Asian Australians feel wary – their views about China and Australian foreign policy have to be tempered lest they arouse accusations of treason. Their situation will become more precarious as war approaches.

Wong decried the use of ‘coercion’ yet failed to acknowledge the biggest culprit. She made it clear Australia will defend the rules of what many in the world see as a dying world order. She emphasised this must be underwritten by a deterrent military capability. She expressed concern regarding China’s build-up of its military assets because the aim of that build-up isn’t clear to her. It is a declaration to Asia that Australia will support the US to maintain its role as world policeman and hegemon, to continue to enforce its rules, because those rules suit Australia and are in the best interests of the region. What are Asian leaders to make of this?

The assumption our interests are one and the same with the US was not challenged. Nor was further clarification sought about the impact of our $400bn submarines prowling inside China’s EEZ, identifying the precise location of Chinese submarines for the US to blow up, is going to work with attempts to smooth out our faltering trade relationship with China.

In response to a question about the US retreating from its position of strategic ambiguity, she retreated to Aw shucks, we are just a Middle Power.. and repeated she doesn’t want to ‘hypothesise about scenarios’. On the pointy issues she trotted out the standard refrain we have heard many times.

So, all in all it was a marshmallow sitting on top of a poorly concealed pineapple for our Asian neighbours, and for those who do not want Australia to participate in a war with China the US is determined to have, there was no joy.

Similarly, little hope for those who are relying on this government to use their influence with the US to get Assange out of jail. Unfortunately she was able to get away with the usual dismissive response when a question was put to her.

She ought to have been asked to account for the difference in her approach to the matters of Australian journalist Chen Lei jailed in China, and US journalist Evan Gershkovich charged with Espionage in Russia, as a opposed to Julian Assange who is charged with Espionage by the US: her selective use of megaphone diplomacy, and calls for China and Russia to release the detainees despite ‘legal proceedings’ being underway – the excuse she has repeatedly used to explain why she cannot interfere in the Assange case.

Secondly, Wong has said she has raised the matter of Assange ‘at appropriate levels’, as has Albanese.

As FOI searches since she and Anthony Albanese came into office have not come up with a single document that mentions Assange, it may be that he was raised in conversation and a decision taken not to record it. However, the lack of any documentation at all indicates to his family, legal team and to supporters including journalists, that either the request was dismissed out of hand, or has not been taken seriously, and certainly that there has been no progress as that would necessitate correspondence to negotiate how, when, the terms etc.

So then, as you were. It’s all the way with the USA, and journalists will be fine as long as they are not revealing any US wrong doing.


For more on this topic, P&I recommends:

Never before has a Labor Government been so bereft of policy ambition

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