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  • Writer's pictureMike Lyons


Updated: May 27, 2022

In ancient Chinese philosophy, “Yin and Yang” describes how opposite or contrary forces may actually be complimentary, interconnected, and interdependent. Is it possible that Australia’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Wong and China’s Foreign Minister Wang may prove to be interconnected, interdependent and even complementary.

Penny Wong had barely been appointed as Australia’s new Foreign Minister on Monday, 23 May 2022 when she was off on a flying visit with Prime Minister Albanese to a meeting of Quad leaders. She has not even unpacked her bags before she finds herself racing to “stop” China from signing new regional deals with as many as ten more Pacific Island nations.

Australia’s leading papers, The Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the AFR have all reported on the imminent visit by China’s Minister Wang to eight Pacific countries commencing on Thursday 26 May. His trip will include the formal signing of the Solomon Islands security agreement and a new “Blue Economy” MOU, and he is also expected to unveil a host of other MOU’s.

Australia’s Penny Wong plans to discuss with the Island leaders how Australia can best secure the region and help build a stronger “Pacific family”. When she and Prime Minister Albanese attend the Pacific Island Forum in July, she will also discuss Australia’s ambitious climate change policies, all to show that Australia is listening to its Pacific partners, but that will only happen after the horses have well and truly galloped out of their stalls!

In a prescient opinion piece by Australia’s leading defence expert, Professor Hugh White (published in AFA in February 2022, well before news of the Solomon Islands deal had leaked) he remarks “Let’s be honest: Australians have never had much time for our South Pacific neighbours.” Australia’s attention had been episodic, at best and its engagement has been uninspiring. As a result, Australia’s relations with its Pacific Island neighbours have become increasingly estranged, and it’s sphere of influence has become threadbare.

If Penny Wong plans to talk “happy families” and how important Australia’s climate change policies will be for our Pacific neighbours, it sounds not only too little too late but worse, it sounds like a plan utterly devoid of imagination, creativity or even hope. Racing to stop China’s plans is an exercise in futility. China is a planning nation. It does not rely on knee-jerk reactions or last-minute ideas. Minister Wang’s plans would have been hatched months ago (even sooner).

Penny Wong will face an uphill battle trying to convince the Pacific Island nations not to partner with Beijing. Only days ago, East Timor President José Ramos Horta told the SMH that “It would be a total mistake not to have a good relationship with China”, and Minister Wang told leaders at a UN forum that “We should adhere to the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security, and should not pursue one’s own security at the cost of others’ security.”

Instead of racing to stop China from signing a new deal with these Pacific Nations, Yin and Yang suggests there may be a real opportunity for Australia to open the door to a potential partnership with China, for both nations to work together with their Pacific Island neighbours and to offer real benefits to this “Pacific family”.

That would demonstrate real leadership, real initiative, and a real opportunity to reset Australia’s troubled relationship with China.

Just one phone call.

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