Sun. Jan 29th, 2023
Penny Wong is making waves, despite a personal wipeout

Wong’s tenure as international affairs minister has not been an unqualified success. The federal government botched its announcement to not recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, revealing the choice on a Jewish holy day and stunning the Israeli authorities. However there have been large wins, justifying Wong’s intense give attention to South-East Asia and the Pacific. It’s in these areas, Wong believes, the place Australia has probably the most at stake and may make the most important distinction.

A spotlight was the negotiated launch of Sydney economist Sean Turnell final month after 650 days in a Myanmar jail. One other got here on Wong’s Pacific tour final week when Australia and Vanuatu signed a binding safety pact. This was an necessary achievement given a number of years in the past there was hypothesis China might set up a army base on the island nation, which sits simply 2000 kilometres from Australia.

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong met with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing.

Overseas Affairs Minister Penny Wong met with Chinese language counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing.Credit score:AAP

“I believe Penny has used the alternatives introduced to her to good impact up to now,” opposition international affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham says. He notes Pacific nations, specifically, have welcomed Labor’s elevated emissions discount goal and its vow to be a world local weather change chief.

A number of the strongest criticism of Wong comes from human rights advocates exasperated by the federal government’s refusal to make use of focused sanctions and different diplomatic punishments towards repressive regimes. Some grumble about Wong being “captured” by risk-averse public servants within the Division of Overseas Affairs and Commerce.

Earlier this month, Wong imposed Magnitsky-style sanctions on 13 people from Russia and Iran, banning them from travelling to Australia and freezing any belongings they might maintain right here. However she has resisted calls from teams like Human Rights Watch Australia to levy comparable sanctions towards officers from Myanmar and China.


Equally, she has rebuffed calls from Iranian-Australians to expel Iran’s ambassador to Australia to protest the regime’s brutal crackdown on girls’s rights and pro-democracy protesters.

Wong’s tenet for managing Australia’s worldwide affairs is: “We take the world as it’s, however we search to form it for the higher.” First issues first, she’s a realist who believes Australia should assume strategically about its potential to affect the behaviour of different nations.

“I do really feel fairly strongly about this,” she says. “It in all probability derives from my political heritage, which is I’m a progressive, however I’m within the Labor Get together. Meaning it’s important to have goal and precept, however you additionally need to have pragmatism.”

By way of most of her political profession, Wong’s left faction has been a minority pressure inside Labor. This implies she has needed to play a protracted recreation to get issues carried out, to remain within the room the place the massive choices are made even when she doesn’t instantly get her manner.


The struggle for marriage equality was a basic instance. In 2004, Wong needed to vote with Labor to ban same-sex marriage and publicly defend that place though she disagreed with it. Moderately than campaign publicly, she labored behind the scenes at successive Labor conferences to collect the votes to alter the celebration’s place. Whereas in opposition, she labored with Liberal moderates to craft a cross-party invoice able to passing parliament. Finally, it grew to become legislation.

She takes the identical strategy to international affairs. Whereas working to safe Turnell’s launch, Wong engaged immediately with Myanmar’s army regime regardless of its vicious therapy of protesters and journalists. “We dwell in a area of the world the place most individuals don’t share our views and values,” she says. “So how do you handle that? It’s not a viable choice for a rustic to only disengage and withdraw from the world. However on the similar time, you additionally need to proceed to seek out methods to be clear about who you might be and what our values are.”

Throughout her assembly in Beijing, Wong raised considerations concerning the therapy of the Uyghurs, intentionally mentioning the ethnic minority by title slightly than euphemistically referring to human rights abuses in Xinjiang. However she has not sanctioned Chinese language officers chargeable for the Xinjiang internment camps.

Benjamin Herscovitch, an professional on Australia-China relations at Australian Nationwide College, sees advantage to this strategy. “There’s a powerful argument to be made that diplomacy and international coverage typically contain compromise and that statecraft just isn’t the precise enviornment wherein to stick to inflexible guidelines and pursue ethical purity,” Herscovitch wrote in his newsletter Beijing to Canberra and Back this month.


Pulling the sanctions set off might encourage Beijing to increase the detentions of Australian journalist Cheng Lei and author Yang Hengjun. It might provoke additional tariffs on Australian items and lead China to kick Australia again into the diplomatic canine field. Is {that a} danger price taking for what would basically be a symbolic show of condemnation? Most international officers, in any case, usually are not personally affected by Australian journey bans and asset freezes. Wong thinks not, and justifiably so. The ethical high-ground isn’t any place to be if it limits your potential to nudge the world in a greater path.

“This can be a onerous level for folks to just accept as a result of it’s simpler simply to say, ‘I don’t need to discuss to you’,” Wong says. “However truly, I believe dialogue is necessary.”

Wong’s three face-to-face encounters along with her Chinese language counterpart haven’t resulted within the launch of Australian prisoners or the removing of sanctions from Australian wine, lobster or barley. Whereas conserving tight-lipped, Wong seems assured her diplomatic engagement will translate into sensible advantages for Australia. If it doesn’t, the federal government will quickly face accusations it’s being “performed” by Beijing, granting an authoritarian regime legitimacy with out receiving something in return.

As Wong herself acknowledges, the tides have been pleasant to her this 12 months. Subsequent 12 months they might be choppier, requiring much more talent and power to maintain Australian international coverage from crashing into the rocks.

Matthew Knott is the international affairs and nationwide safety correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Peter Hartcher is on depart.

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