Former Prime Minister Paul Keating has launched an extraordinary new barrage of criticism against Secretary of State Penny Wong, accusing her of delivering “platitudes” in her important foreign policy speech on Monday.
In a statement shortly after Wong addressed the National Press Club about “Australia’s interests in a regional balance of power,” Keating said she did not provide policy answers and adopted the “binary” approach — in her case favoring the United States against China – that she warned others to avoid.
“Never before has a Labor government been so devoid of policy or policy ambition,” he said.
Earlier, when answering a question about Keating’s recent cutting description of her “running around the Pacific Islands with a slate around her neck” while handing out money, Wong said the former prime minister had “narrowed down” his legacy and subject matter. .
The latest vitriolic exchange reflects long-running policy animosity between the two, particularly Keating’s animosity towards Wong over the China issue.
In her speech, Wong condemned commentators and strategists who saw what was happening in the region “simply in terms of great powers vying for supremacy.
“They like binary. And the appeal of binary is obvious. Simple, clear choices. Black and white. But if you look at the future of the region simply in terms of major powers vying for supremacy, countries’ own national interests are lost sight of.” focus.
“It diminishes the power of any country to engage in any other way than through the prism of a great power.”
Wong stressed the need for countries “with an existential interest in regional peace and stability to push for the responsible management of competition between great powers”.
She said: “strategic competition is not just about who is the best dog, who is ahead of the race or who has strategic primacy in the Indo-Pacific.
“It’s really about the character of the region. It’s about the rules and standards that underpin our security and prosperity, that ensure our access to an open and inclusive region, and that deal responsibly with competition.”
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She said Australia used its own statesmanship “to shape a region that is open, stable and prosperous.
“A predictable region, operating according to agreed rules, norms and laws. Where no country dominates and no country is dominated. A region where sovereignty is respected and all countries benefit from a strategic balance.”
In her speech, Wong indicated that she would not be involved in discussions of Taiwan timelines and scenarios. That was “the most dangerous parlor game”.
“A war over Taiwan would be catastrophic for all of us,” she said; “It’s our job to highlight any potential conflict.”
Wong said of relations with China: “The Albanian government will be calm and consistent,” cooperating where it can, disagreeing where necessary and managing differences wisely. “We start with the reality that China will remain China.”
She said that in pursuit of “strategic balance where all nations exercise their agency to achieve peace and prosperity, America is central to balancing a multipolar region. Many who smugly examine America’s imperfections would find the world a lot less satisfying if America stopped playing its role.”
Keating said: “In facing the great challenge of our time, a super-state residing in continental Asia and an itinerant naval power trying to maintain primacy, the Secretary of State could not nominate a single piece of strategic statesmanship from Australia that would attempt a solution for both powers”.
Keating said that Wong “went out of her way to turn her back on what she despised as ‘black and white’ binary choices, talked platitudinally about preserving ‘the balance of power’, but had no idea how this could happen.” are being reached.”
Wong had said she was “steadfast” in her refusal to talk about regional flashpoints – “that is, she refused to talk about the power issue that threatens the viability of the region.
She told us she will turn her back on reality and speak only in terms of ‘reducing the heat’ and the ‘benefit of a strategic balance’, without giving a single clue, let alone a policy, about how that could be achieved”.
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Although Wong had shunned binary choices in black and white, she had made that choice herself.
She had extolled the virtues of the US, “of remaining ‘the central power’ – of ‘balancing the region’, while despising China as ‘meant to be China'”.
She went on to say “countries don’t want to live in a closed, hierarchical region, where the rules are dictated by a single superpower to serve its own interests,” Keating said.
“There’s nothing subtle about that,” he said. “She means China and likes to mean China.
“This is the person who claims she doesn’t want to make binary choices. Yet she tells us ‘we must push for the management of great power competition’ while saying ‘we want partners and not patriarchs’ but doesn’t articulate an iota an idea of how that great competition for power can be settled without war.
Keating, who has been a strong critic of AUKUS, said Wong had said the arrival of capability under AUKUS “will change the calculus for any aggressor” — meaning China, of course.
“As a middle power, Australia now finds itself at a strategic divide, one that is rapidly becoming as rigid as the one that emerged in Europe in 1914. The main task of Australia’s foreign policy is to soften that rigidity by allowing both the United States and To encourage China to find common cause and benefit in a peaceful and prosperous Pacific,’ said Keating.
“Nothing Penny Wong said on behalf of Australia today adds an iota of substance to that pressing task.”