Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong is set to accuse Defence Minister Peter Dutton of deliberately needling China’s government and “amping up” the threat of war in a bid to improve the Coalition’s chances of winning the next election.
- Senator Wong will say in a speech that the Coalition is feeding into China’s narrative that war in Taiwan is inevitable
- She will emphasise the threat conflict between the US and China would pose to the region
- She will say that if elected Labor will give new focus and priority to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Earlier this month Mr Dutton said it was “inconceivable” that Australia would not back the United States if there was a war over Taiwan, drawing a furious response from Chinese state media.
He would later go on to criticise China’s acting ambassador, which led to China’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian rebuking Mr Dutton on Monday night for “making alarmist and jaw-dropping statements that would put Australia on the chariot of confrontation with China”.
Senator Wong will tell the National Security College in Canberra on Tuesday that Mr Dutton’s comments were “wildly out of step” with the policy of strategic ambiguity embraced by successive US administrations, which have traditionally declined to say if they would come to Taiwan’s defence should China invade.
US President Joe Biden has created confusion about that policy several times since taking office, for example telling CNN last month the US had a “commitment” to defend Taiwan if the self-ruled island was attacked by the Chinese military.
However, the White House has repeatedly walked back his comments, seemingly reasserting the status quo.
‘The most dangerous election tactic in Australian history’
In her speech Senator Wong will call on ministers to choose their words more carefully on Taiwan, declaring the Coalition seemed intent on exploiting national security as an election issue.
“A tactic employed by irresponsible politicians who are desperate to hang on to power at any cost.”
She will also argue that Mr Dutton’s comments — as well as a warning from Home Affairs Minister Mike Pezzullo about the “drums of war” beating in the region — could actually feed into the Chinese government’s narrative that war or unification with the mainland are the only two options facing Taiwan.
“Mr Dutton does Australians and the Taiwanese no favours by amplifying Beijing’s fatalism,” she will say.
“This is the worst in a litany of cases of the Morrison-Joyce government seeking to use foreign policy and national security for political advantage.”
Senator Wong will emphasise that any conflict in the Taiwan Strait between the US and China could spiral out of control with potentially drastic consequences.
“The greatest risk to peace, stability and prosperity in our region is the risk of conflict in Taiwan. That said, it is not a risk that is contained to our region,” her speech reads.
“That is why successive Australian, American and regional governments have taken a careful and sober approach to cross-Strait relations.”
Wider foreign policy also in the firing line
Senator Wong will also welcome recent talks between Mr Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, saying that US-China cooperation on issues like climate change and nuclear proliferation would help the two countries strike a “settling point” in escalating strategic competition.
And she will sharpen criticisms of the way the federal government and senior officials handled the announcement of the AUKUS pact in the wake of the bitter feud between Australia and France over the cancelled submarine programme.
Senator Wong will accuse the government of sidelining Australian diplomats in major foreign policy decisions, promising that Labor will give new focus and priority to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
“An Albanese Labor government will provide the leadership and direction our foreign service needs,” the speech reads.
“We would ensure a more central role for foreign policy in the content and implementation of strategy. And we would be focussed on the key task of maximising our influence in the reshaping of the region.”
Senator Wong will also accuse the government of taking a tone-deaf approach to Asian partners and retaining a wistful reverence for the Anglosphere, suggesting that Labor would put more emphasis on Australia’s diversity and Indigenous history when framing foreign policy decisions.
“We need to understand how our past attitudes and policy on race can provide others with the opportunity to promote narratives that limit our influence,” the speech reads.
“We can counter that, in part, by articulating who we are, our place and shared stake in the region.”
“That includes placing the experiences of First Nations peoples – this land’s first diplomats – at the heart of our diplomacy. Drawing on our vibrant multiculturalism we can ground a narrative which enables the possibilities of greater alignment with others.”