15 July 2020
WILL GOODINGS, HOST: It was a remarkable about-face from the British Government, given certainly the direction that the United States and Australia had progressed when it comes to dealing with the Chinese telco, Huawei.
It's the sort of thing that falls into the purview of our next guest, the Foreign Affairs spokesperson, South Australian Senator Penny Wong who has penned a fascinating article for the forthcoming edition of the Australian Foreign Affairs journal.
She joins us now. Senator, good morning to you.
SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Good morning to you both.
DAVID PENBERTHY, HOST: Thanks for your time, Penny.
In the last six months on our show, we spend a lot of our time talking directly to the listeners and reading out our text line and you get a bit of a sense of what the community's thinking about things.
And we've seen this real firming in negative sentiment towards China over the management of the coronavirus, the trade threats towards Australia, in retaliation to our criticisms or our querying of the coronavirus and latterly the concerns over sedition in Hong Kong.
How do we manage the relationship, at a time when it's under such pressure?
WONG: Well, it's a pretty challenging relationship to manage isn't it, at the moment?
WONG: I mean, look, China has always been a one-party, authoritarian state, obviously, in the modern era. And its nationalism, its authoritarianism has increased under President Xi and we are seeing some of the consequences of those behaviours, its assertiveness, in the ways that you’ve described, Dave.
And Australians are seeing that. Australians have seen some of the language, Australians are seeing some of the actions, Australians are deeply worried about the behaviours in Hong Kong and the repression in Hong Kong, which I think we've spoken about before.
So, it's completely understandable people feel deeply concerned.
At the same time, we have to work out how we handle the relationship with a country that is going to remain a very important nation for us and for the world, where we have really different values and interests. We're a democracy; they're a one party state.
But it is a relationship, too, which is about real people. It's about our exporters and our farmers and about Australian jobs.
So the challenge for any government is to manage the relationship and to manage differences, whilst never stepping away from our values.
GOODINGS: What have you made of the Federal Government's management of that relationship in recent weeks, given it seems to have progressed beyond poking the bear to staring the bear down?
We've seen examples, by way of the cancellation of the extradition treaty with Hong Kong, the open fawning to Hong Kong business people to come to Australia if they're unhappy with the current state of affairs there.
We've seen defence procurement now built around the purchase of long range anti-ship missiles which really only would have any practical application against a Chinese fleet in this part of the world.
They have amped up the rhetoric. They have made a real statement. Is it the right statement?
WONG: Look, I think we always have to assert our interests and I'll just take some of those things you talked about.
The first is the Hong Kong extradition treaty; we called for that to be cancelled and I think that's the right thing to do.
If you have a piece of legislation, the national security legislation such as has been enacted by China, and the consequences that has for the rule of law in Hong Kong and the what's called the One Country, Two Systems arrangement - which is Hong Kong maintaining its separation of powers, you know, the independent judiciary and so forth.
Once the national security legislation was enacted I think the Government had to walk away from the extradition treaties. I think that is the right thing to do, that's a sensible thing to do.
But more broadly, I think it's very important when we deal with these issues, particularly on China, that you focus on strategy and not politics. And it is very important that when we make announcements, we're sure we can deliver them. And that our announcements and our policy stance is about making sure we can manage all aspects of that relationship, including what we believe and what we stand up for.
So, on the military capability we supported that announcement, those sets of announcements. But the point I made, is we've got to do more. We've got to do more in our region.
There are a lot of countries who are managing a much more assertive China. There are a lot of countries in our region who are dealing with the same sorts of issues that you're opening questions went to - how do we handle China's assertiveness in the region and more broadly. And we should be working with them to work out how we handle this relationship. That's very important for Australia, it's very important for the sort of region we want, which is stable and prosperous but where everybody's sovereignty is respected.
PENBERTHY: The weird thing Penny - all those things I mentioned at the start that our listeners have picked up on could be fairly described as a sort of rising, rising examples of Chinese belligerence - yet at the same time you've seen what could be equally fairly described as rising American belligerence, with a President in Washington who's unpredictable, who's brash, who often ignores the more sage and sensible advice of his, his own policy people and governs by Twitter.
Has the fact that we have such an unpredictable President in charge of the nation that's our most important political ally, put Australia in a bit of a pincer movement where we feel what we're sort of, you know, forced to choose between Washington and Beijing?
WONG: Well I think we should choose for us. We should choose what's right for us.
I mean America is our principal national security partner, it's our great ally and that won’t ever change.
There are times we will agree, there are times we'll disagree, and the US engagement in our region is always critical.
But ultimately the sorts of dynamics you've described - and why people in Australia are feeling, I guess, worried or concerned or uncertain about our place in the world – they’re right to be because it's a much harder world.
One of the things I wrote about in the essay is that the pandemic has really accelerated the, I guess, the unravelling of the world order that we've known since the end of World War II, which has been a pretty stable period actually in human history.
And what that means for us is the world is going to be harder to navigate, and what it means is we have to be more self-reliant, and we have to be more ambitious.
Foreign policy, in many ways, unfortunately, has become much harder and much more in our faces.
And that's why we've got to have these sorts of conversations, even on Adelaide radio in the morning, about what it means for us because we've got a lot of challenging issues to work through and a lot of decisions that we have to make about our engagement with the region.
GOODINGS: It is one of the massive questions and some that will need immediate answers.
South Australian Senator Penny Wong, appreciate your time.
WONG: Really good to speak to you both.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.