Australia cannot accept a situation where large countries determine the fate of smaller countries but it wants a peaceful and predictable Southeast Asian region, the country’s top diplomat said Friday.
Penny Wong told the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in New York that the region was being “reshaped” and she urged deeper engagement with Southeast Asian nations.
“And Australia seeks to work with our partners in ASEAN to shape this period of change together,” said Wang, referring to the 10-nation regional bloc.
She said Australia seeks a region that is “peaceful and predictable that is governed by accepted rules and norms where all our countries and peoples can cooperate, trade and thrive.”
Vouching for relations that are based on respect and partnership, Wong said Canberra wants a situation where all “can contribute to strategic equilibrium in a regional order in which countries are not required to choose sides but can make their own sovereign choices.”
“We must contribute to the strategic balance of the region,” she said.
Australia is part of the Quad, a loose security alliance led by the US that includes Japan and India, to counter China’s increasing economic and military influence in the Asia-Pacific region which Washington has rephrased as Indo-Pacific.
Washington has launched a number of other initiatives including the AUKUS, where Australia will get nuclear-armed submarines, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and the Blue Pacific Partnership.
Australia, said Wong, does not want to see any one country dominating or any country being dominated.
“Each nation must make its own decision, we cannot leave it to big powers and we cannot be passive when big powers flout the rules,” she said.
Pointing to an “even sharper” geopolitical context in Asia-Pacific, Wong said: “We must ensure that competition does not escalate into conflict.”
“If conflict were to break out, in the Indo-Pacific, it would be catastrophic for our people, and for our countries.
“The cost would extend far beyond the region,” she warned.
Wang said the UN remains the “only place where the whole world has agreed to come together … recognizing that to avoid conflict, we must talk and listen to each other.”
“We cannot accept a situation where large countries determine the fate of smaller countries,” she said, calling Russia’s war against Ukraine an “illegal and immoral invasion” that “cannot be normalized” nor “minimized.”
“Russia’s attack on Ukraine is an attack on all smaller nations,” she added.
Urging countries that play leading roles in international fora to exert their influence on Russia to end the war in Ukraine, the Australian top diplomat said, “the world looks to China, a great power, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, with a no-limits partnership with Russia.”