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A 360-degree scan is as necessary in taking one’s policy bearings as it is in determining one’s geospatial position.
Speaking at Australia 360 on Tuesday, an annual event hosted by the Coral Bell School of the Australian National University, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong chronicled Labor’s foreign policy vision for Asia.
“Recognising where we’ve been is a vital part of knowing where we are, and both are essential if we are to chart the course to where we need to go,” Senator Wong said.
“You can’t steer the ship of state if you don’t know where you’re going.”
Senator Wong’s keynote address, held at Old Parliament House before an audience of academics and students, argued Australia was facing a period of acute disruption in international relations.
“Without a plan for these key relationships and a better roadmap in Asia, Australia will not be able to manage the disruption currently facing contemporary international relationships,” she said.
While the Turnbull government is currently drafting a new foreign policy white paper, Labor draws inspiration from the Gillard government’s 2012 Australia in the Asian Century white paper.
That paper warned against policy complacency regarding Asia in general, highlighting the neglect of Asian language classes in Australian schools specifically.
But Senator Wong cited her own additions to that agenda.
“There must be renewed energy and vigour in negotiating international agreements to address the consequences of climate change,” she said.
Additionally, opportunities such as China’s colossal regional infrastructure project - the Belt and Road Initiative - illustrate the need to focus on finding complementarity rather than resorting to reflexive negativity.
“We need a China policy that begins with what China actually is, rather than through the lens of risk management,” Senator Wong said.
While highlighting the importance of the US alliance, Senator Wong said it was Australia’s role to ensure the global superpower was sensitive to change in the Asia Pacific region.
“We need an alliance policy built around shared interests in global stability, peace and security,” she said.
According to the Senator, Australia also needs to revisit its aid policy, re-establishing development assistant programs.
“Especially in our region,” Senator Wong said.
“Australia has a bright future in Asia,” she said, “but only if we are confident, constructive, collaborative and, most importantly, comprehending.”
By Pat Griffiths