Government ‘wildly out of step’ with the US on Taiwan: Wong

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong will accuse the federal government of amplifying the threat of war over Taiwan for domestic political advantage, saying it is “wildly out of step” with the United States’ policy not to declare its intentions about the island’s defence.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton earlier this month said if the US committed forces to defend Taiwan, it would be “inconceivable” that Australia would not join in.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong says the policy of “strategic ambiguity” is the best way of “averting conflict and enabling the region to live in peace and prosperity”.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

For decades, Australia has followed the US’s policy of “strategic ambiguity” towards Taiwan – meaning they do not state publicly whether they would defend it in the event of an attack by China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province.

In a speech to the National Security College in Canberra, Senator Wong will declare this policy is the best way of “averting conflict and enabling the region to live in peace and prosperity”.

“So when Peter Dutton talks about it being ‘inconceivable’ that Australian would not ‘join’ a war over Taiwan, he is wildly out of step with the strategy long adopted by Australia and our principal ally,” Senator Wong will say, according to a draft of the speech.

“Surely the real question is not, as he suggests, whether we declare our intentions, but why the Defence Minister is amping up war, rather than working to maintain longstanding policy to preserve the status quo – as advocated by the Taiwanese leader, Tsai Ing-wen.”

Beijing has threatened to take Taiwan by force if necessary but has stated its aim is for “peaceful reunification”.

Senator Wong will say the government’s language on Taiwan is the “worst in a litany of cases of the Morrison-Joyce government seeking to use foreign policy and national security for political advantage”.

Her speech will provide the most extensive blueprint yet for Labor’s foreign policy at a time when questions are being raised about whether Australia has the right diplomatic skills and resources after a major fallout with France over a cancelled submarine contract. It also comes amid an intense domestic debate about Taiwan after former prime minister Paul Keating earlier this month claimed it was not a vital “interest” for Australia.

Senator Wong will outline three main “drivers” to improve Australia’s standing on the world stage: better project the reality of modern Australia; develop deeper partnerships with other nations, particularly in the Pacific through climate change policies; and develop a more capable and better resourced foreign service.

She will declare the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade needs “clearer political leadership and a sharper understanding of its role”, and an overhaul of the foreign aid program.

DFAT and national security agencies should take the opportunity to review their advice to government following the diplomatic fallout with France, according to Senator Wong.

“Our foreign service has many talented, skilled people, but they have been hampered by a lack of leadership, degraded resources, and a lack of clarity of how they are expected to deliver for Australia in these changing times.”

Senator Wong will warn Australians are living in a time of “great uncertainty” and many of the challenges are “without precedent”.

Along with rising nationalism, fraying multilateralism, great power competition, emerging COVID strains, an ever-warming planet, Senator Wong will say Australia needs to deal with a “more assertive China” and the fact that “our region is being reshaped.”

“We are in a contest – a race, you might say – for influence,” she will say. “Maximising our influence means we need to use all the tools we have. Military capability matters.

“But we need more than that. Foreign policy must work with other elements of state power to succeed. In this, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

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