E&OE - PROOF ONLY
MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Turning to politics now and the Federal Opposition is backing the Government’s call for a global investigation into the COVID-19 outbreak in China. In an opinion piece published in the Nine papers this morning, the Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong says trust remains a key issue, but she cautions against some of the language used against China in recent days. And Senator Wong joins us now from Adelaide. A very good morning to you.
SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Good to be with you, Michael.
ROWLAND: I want to talk about that piece in just a moment but let’s start with the very strong threat, and it’s really no other way of describing it, from the Chinese Ambassador this morning in the Financial Review, of a, threat of severe economic backlash from China to Australia, if we pursue with this global investigation. What do you make of that?
WONG: I’d make the point that the Chinese Ambassador spoke about not wanting to resort to recrimination, division and suspicion and what I’d say is that’s precisely why we are supporting a call for an independent inquiry into the origin of the virus.
I mean, that is precisely the reason why we want to make sure the international community can be assured that we get to the bottom of the origin of the virus.
ROWLAND: Is he overstepping the mark, though? He’s directly threatening Australia that China will hold back on its students, its tourists, not take our beef, our wine…
WONG: We hope that that’s not the case. But I would say this: Australia has to assert its national interest.
We have to press what is right, what we believe is right, for us and for the international community, and making sure that humanity understands how this virus started is the right thing to do.
ROWLAND: And speaking of that, and I’ll move to your arguments in just a moment, the Chinese Ambassador also strongly refutes what the evidence, and it is evidence, that this all started in that wet market in Wuhan. What do you make of that opinion?
WONG: Well, look, he says the jury’s still out on it and what I would say is if that’s the case, let’s have an independent inquiry that clarifies this.
I mean ultimately this isn’t about politics, it’s not even about geopolitics, it’s about making sure that humanity, the international community, understands how this pandemic began, so we can put in place protections to ensure this does not happen again.
ROWLAND: Okay, now you’re saying today, our relationship with China will, by definition, be rather different once we get out of this pandemic and you’ve even gone as far as writing, we need a rethink of the relationship. What course, in your view, should that rethink take?
WONG: Look, even before the pandemic our relationship with China wasn’t straightforward. We know that. In fact, in October I said we’re entering a new phase in the relationship.
We’ve seen China become much more assertive. We’ve seen obviously, at times, there are differences in our views on important issues. So we do need to rethink our relationship. We need to rethink how it is we approach the relationship whilst standing up for our sovereignty, our interests and our values.
But I would make the point that disengagement isn’t an option. We know that we need to continue to engage with China.
You asked what would I do, well I think we should approach it with discipline and consistency. I think we should engage the Australian people in a discussion about the challenges of the relationship.
And perhaps most of all, we should think of this relationship in long terms, through the long term. I mean, China thinks of relationships and strategy in terms of 30 years, often Australian governments look to, you know, one electoral term. So, instead of three years, we should be also thinking about 30 years.
ROWLAND: Should Australia consider diversifying its trading base? Obviously we still need to rely heavily on China but shift the emphasis to other countries?
WONG: Look, we do need to rethink our economic engagement with the world. We need to rethink that, given what’s happened during this pandemic where we’ve seen the fragility of some global supply chains. That is logical. I think every country will do that.
So we should have a careful rethink. But we also should, in doing that, not disregard the reality of China’s economic weight in the world and China’s economic importance to Australia.
ROWLAND: And you’re also saying some of the language from our side has been unhelpful. What are you talking about in particular there?
WONG: You know, Peter Dutton, I think, you know, he’s always good for a comment. And I don’t think, given that we’re talking about transparency and disinformation, I don’t think peddling some of the conspiracy theories which have been discounted internationally, as he did, was very sensible. I don’t think that’s a sensible way to approach things.
We have to be upfront and clear about our views, just as the Opposition has been. We agree that there should be an independent inquiry into the origin of the virus.
ROWLAND: Okay, just before we go Penny Wong, have you downloaded this coronavirus tracing app?
WONG: No, not yet. I do intend to. And like most Australians I also hope the Federal Government will do what it says and that is to put proper protections into legislation when we go back in May.
ROWLAND: Okay, Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong, thank you so much for joining us on News Breakfast.
WONG: Good to speak with you.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.