SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

OPINION PIECE

26 September 2017

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE NORTH KOREA

The eyes of the world are on north Asia. The crisis presented by North Korea’s missile testing cannot and should not be underestimated.

Turning this rogue state away from further aggression and restoring stability and security to the region depends on direct engagement with the affected parties.

This week we are travelling to Seoul and Tokyo to talk to the governments of South Korea and Japan about the regional security impacts of North Korea’s nuclear weaponisation of its missiles and also to show Australia’s solidarity with our friends at this troubled time.

The situation in North Korea has enormous implications for its nearest neighbours: South Korea, China, Japan and Russia — but is also cause for serious concern throughout the Asia-Pacific. A breakdown in the security arrangements that have been in place since the end of the Korean War could have devastating consequences: death and destruction on an unimaginable scale and the long-term economic and social degradation of the region.

This is a time for calm, concerted thought and action. We and our north Asian partners have shared national interests in the maintenance of regional stability, regional economic prosperity and global security.

We share those interests with the US, and with China — the country with the greatest sway and most important influence to dissuade North Korea from the recklessness of its recent actions. If regional countries are to protect the lives and wellbeing of their citizens, and the lives and wellbeing of the citizens of North Korea for that matter, it is important that we identify considered, deliberate and measured policies to achieve that end.

All in the region, and indeed all in the international community, need to work together to do that. We need cool, sober heads working for de-escalation, not actions that further inflame an already volatile situation.

It is for that reason that both of us are embarking on consultations to support South Korea and Japan in bringing about a peaceful settlement on the Korean Peninsula that reduces the threat of war and maximises the chances of peace. A de-escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula is a necessary precursor to an acceptable resolution of the problem.

We want to lend our support to South Korea and Japan as they devise ways of identifying how they might bring North Korea to its senses, how they might sanction any further adventurism by North Korea, and how they might encourage North Korea to step back from a form of confrontation that can only deliver further hardship and suffering to its own citizens. Because South Korea and Japan have most at stake, we know that they have already given much thought to the most effective ways of dealing with this crisis. We want to lend our support to initiatives aimed at managing and resolving the matter.

We are acutely aware of the many factors that bear upon the strategic stability of the Asian region. Like South Korea and Japan, Australia is a long-term ally of the US. It is our view that the intersecting nature of these alliances with the US is an important contributing factor to an acceptable outcome.

Alliances work to support peace and security, not just for the allied partners but for the entire region. Labor wants to ensure that South Korea, Japan and Australia are able to bring our collective resources of state together to generate an outcome that is in the interests of everyone in north Asia and beyond, including the people of North Korea.

It is our job as leaders of the alternative Australian government to step up to this challenge as a direct contribution to the security of Australia and the region.

This opinion piece was first published in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, 26 September 2017.