Wong pushes strong Australian engagement with Asia in a Labor government

Penny Wong has indicated that Labor will advocate for a stronger relationship between Australia and Asia if Labor wins the federal election.

Speaking on ABC Radio in Perth on Wednesday, the Senate leader of the Opposition and Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson claimed that the “playbook of the last decades is not going to work in terms of how we approach foreign policy” but there is an opportunity to better engage with “our region”.

Ms Wong said Australia has had a long-standing engagement with Asia with a “strong focus on the region.”

“I think Labor has had a stronger tradition of regionalism, a stronger tradition of looking to the region,” she said.

“Whether you look at Whitlam, Hawke and Keating, Rudd and Gillard or indeed Bill Shorten if we are elected, we do have a very strong focus on the region.”

However, she said that it was important for Australia to increase its engagement with the region as the party announced a FutureAsia policy.

“One of the things we absolutely know is that stepping up our capabilities, our engagement with the region is critical,” Ms Wong said.

“We have announced a FutureAsia policy which is essentially a whole of government series of policies, varying from education – so getting more Asian languages into schools – to encouraging more people with Asian business experience.”

She also added that it was in Australia’s interest to continue to work towards open, fair, transparent trading arrangements.

“We have to continue to advocate for Australia’s national interest and our interest is in a multilateral system when it comes to trade.”

She stated there would be complications in Australia’s relationship with China in a trade war between the US and China.

“There are, obviously economic consequences, but there are also consequences more broadly to the stability of the global system,” Ms Wong said.

“If you have a situation where two major powers – our principal ally and our major trading partner are in conflict on issues of trade – that is not a good thing.”

With the federal election two days away, Ms Wong could assume the foreign minister position if Labor is elected.

She said that improving the nation’s engagement with China and the general region has been on her mind.

“I have spent the last three years contemplating being Foreign Minister,” Ms Wong said.

“Not in the sense of kicking back and thinking about it, but focusing on what I think we would need to do should we win government.”

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