SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

OPINION PIECE

2 May 2017

THIS IS HARDLY THE TIME TO BE TIMID IN OUR REGION

Brexit, the US presidential election, and the historic rejection of the two established parties in the French presidential poll highlight the disruption the existing world order faces.

Disruption creates great uncertainty and calls into question many of the existing international norms that the global community, including Australia, has relied on for decades. Such uncertainty generates anxiety, even fear.

But it is worth recalling that disruption also can open the door to greater innovation — to new ways of construing problems and to different ways of resolving them.

Both China and India recognise the opportunities these times present.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech in Davos, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s larger footprint on the international stage demonstrate this.

Australia, too, should look to the opportunities change presents. And we must ensure that we do all in our power to contribute to stability, prosperity and the regeneration of confidence.

As I write this, North Asia confronts the belligerence of Kim Jong-un as the North Korean regime continues to stake its political survival on the development of nuclear weapons and their associated delivery systems.

To deal with the intransigence of the North Korean leadership, the US and its allies — particularly Australia, Japan and South Korea — are looking to China to bring its authority to bear in Pyongyang.

This approach reveals two salient points: that the North Korean threat demands a regional response; and the recognition of China’s role as a regional power. The task we all face is to work with China so that it realises its power in the interests of all its neighbours. China, too, benefits from the regional stability we seek.

For its part, India has been active in the Indian Ocean littoral to boost its economic, political, diplomatic and military ties. India has long seen itself as the dominant Indian Ocean power.

As great powers, China and India are somewhat atypical in that they are not just significant nation-states. They are civilisations, with all the cultural credibility and authority that brings. Their soft-power tools are formidable. They are, in important respects, bringing into question and redefining the modalities of great-power behaviour.

So, as I embark on a visit to New Delhi and Beijing as opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman, I will be looking for oppor­tunities for greater bilateral co-operation.

Work on climate change — on decoupling economic growth and carbon emissions — offers the prospect of engagement on a task of historic and critical importance for both nations and for the world.

Also vital is expanded diplomatic co-operation in the many international institutions where Australia, China and India are represented, for it is these bodies that draft and promulgate the understandings and agreements central to the rules-based international order that is fundamental to global prosperity and security.

As trade is increasingly treated with disdain and protectionism rises, we must find better ways to work with these two great economies to ensure open trading systems remain in place so new technologies, automation and artificial intelligence benefit our citizens.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) provides valuable opportunities for bilateral and multilateral co-operation. These have to be realised case by case to ensure mutual benefits are delivered. Buzzwords such as agility and innovation are meaningless unless we put substance behind them.

Australian companies are in the box seat to take advantage of China’s willingness to invest tranches of its enormous national savings pool in regional enter­prises that broaden the material wellbeing of its citizens and ours.

Our reluctance to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was timorous and self-defeating. We need to display much greater confidence in harnessing the opportunities of the BRI.

The government’s unexplained equivocation on the BRI and the opportunities it could create risks repeating these mistakes.

To deal successfully with today’s problems we can’t simply replay our past responses.

This Opinion Piece was first published in The Australian on Tuesday, 2 May 2017.