Australia says no single power should dominate Indo-Pacific

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said that strategic competition between the US and China needs to be managed “responsibly”.


Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong warned that strategic competition between the US and China needs to be managed “responsibly”. PHOTO: AFP

April 18, 2023

CANBERRA – Indo-Pacific nations oppose having their future “dictated by a single major power”, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said, as the region faces an intensifying struggle for influence between the US and China.

In a major speech to the National Press Club in Canberra on Monday, Ms Wong warned that strategic competition between the US and China needs to be managed “responsibly” and is not merely about who is “top dog” in the Indo-Pacific.

“It’s clear to me from my travels throughout the region that countries don’t want to live in a closed, hierarchical region where the rules are dictated by a single major power to suit its own interests,” Ms Wong said.

The Foreign Minister defended Australia’s right to build up its military capabilities, including the Aukus agreement which will see it field a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines as early as the 2030s. China has warned that the move could trigger a regional arms race.

Australia needs to strengthen both its foreign and defence policies to make it “more influential in the world”, Ms Wong said. “Together, they make it harder for states to coerce other states against their interests through force or the threatened use of force.”

Australia has long balanced its close security relationship with the US and vast economic ties with China, its largest trading partner.

Since the election of the centre-left Labor government in May 2022, relations between Australia and China have rapidly improved, with senior ministers from both sides meeting for the first time in years.

Trade sanctions imposed by China on Australia in the wake of a 2020 call by Canberra for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19 are slowly being lifted. In the past week, Beijing announced a review of heavy tariffs imposed on Australian barley.

In her speech, Ms Wong said “China is going to keep being China” and middle powers such as Australia need to use their influence to shape the region in a way which is “open, stable and prosperous”.

Australia’s chief diplomat said “frenzied discussion” over potential flashpoints for armed conflict in the Indo-Pacific was unhelpful and “the most dangerous of parlour games”.

“Let me be absolutely clear. A war over Taiwan would be catastrophic for all. We know that there would be no real winners, and we know maintaining the status quo is comprehensively superior to any alternative,” she said. BLOOMBERG

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