The foreign minister will use a National Press Club speech on Monday to declare that the strategic contest in Asia right now is much more than just a battle for supremacy between the US and China, and will determine “nothing less” than how the future world works.
- Foreign Minister Penny Wong will make the speech to the National Press Club on Monday
- Senator Wong will say that Australia wants to ensure there is “strategic equilibrium” in Asia
- She will also use the speech to defend Australia’s push to build nuclear-powered submarines
Senator Penny Wong will make the address as tensions continue to ratchet up in the region in the wake of China’s latest military exercises near Taiwan, and North Korea’s most recent missile tests.
Senator Wong will again say Australia wants to ensure there is a “strategic equilibrium” in Asia where “no country dominates, and no country is dominated”.
“We need to understand what is being competed for – that it is more than great power rivalry and is in fact nothing less than a contest over the way our region and our world works,” she will say.
And she will warn commentators and strategists who “love a binary” with “simple, clear choices” that they risk losing sight of the bigger picture.
“Viewing the future of the region in terms simply of great powers competing for primacy means countries’ own national interests can fall out of focus,” Senator Wong will say.
The foreign minister does not name China in the speech excerpts provided ahead of her address, but still makes it clear that Australia wants to help create a strategic balance which constrains Beijing’s power, and which makes it harder for it – or any other country — to engage in military aggression or economic coercion.
“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,” she will say.
“Instead, we want an open and inclusive region, based on agreed rules, where countries of all sizes can choose their own destiny.”
Last week Senator Wong announced that China had agreed to urgently review its tariffs on Australian barley – applied when the relationship hit its nadir in 2020 – and that Australia had agreed to temporarily suspend its World Trade Organization appeal against the tax in return.
The government hopes that if Beijing agrees to rewind the barley tariffs it might do the same for crippling taxes which were also placed on Australian wine exports to China.
The foreign minister does not make any direct references to China’s campaign of economic coercion against Australia in the released speech excerpts.
But she will say countries “want a prosperous, connected region, trading together at the epicentre of global economic growth, through a transparent system, where economic interdependence is not misused for political and strategic ends”.
AUKUS subs defended
Senator Wong will also use the speech to defend Australia’s push to build nuclear powered submarines under the AUKUS plan with the United States and the United Kingdom.
The region’s response to the announcement has been ambivalent; a small number of states in the Pacific and Asia have either publicly backed or criticised the plan, but many countries in the region have maintained a watchful silence.
“It is also clear that countries want a region that is peaceful and stable,” the foreign minister’s speech excerpts say.
“And that means sufficient balance to deter aggression and coercion – balance to which more players, including Australia, must contribute if it is to be durable.”
The foreign minister will argue that “strategic reassurance through diplomacy” will also have to be “supported by military deterrence”.
“By having strong defence capabilities of our own, and by working with partners investing in their own capabilities, we change the calculus for any potential aggressor,” she will say.
“We must ensure that no state will ever conclude that the benefits of conflict outweigh the risks.
“This is fundamental to assuring the safety and security of our nation and our people.”