‘He diminished his legacy’: Penny Wong, Paul Keating escalate feud
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The feud between two of Labor’s most beloved figures has escalated, with Foreign Minister Penny Wong accusing Paul Keating of diminishing his legacy and the former prime minister attacking Wong for speaking in platitudes and lacking policy ambition.
In an appearance at the National Press Club on Monday, Wong hit out at critics who take “self-satisfied potshots” at the United States, arguing America continues to play an indispensable role in promoting peace and security in the Asia-Pacific as it jostles with rival superpower China for influence.
Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong addresses the National Press Club.Credit: AAP
At a heated appearance at the press club last month, Keating was particularly personal in his criticisms of Wong, saying: “Running around the Pacific Islands with a lei around your neck handing out money, which is what Penny does, is not foreign policy. It’s a consular task. Foreign policy is what you do with the great powers: what you do with China, what you do with the United States.”
Asked about his comments, Wong said: “On Mr Keating, what I would say is this: I think in tone and substance he diminished both his legacy and the subject matter.”
Keating responded to Wong’s speech by doubling down on his criticisms of both her and the government, saying in a statement: “Never before has a Labor government been so bereft of policy or policy ambition … I never expected more than platitudes from Penny Wong’s press club speech and as it turned out, I was not disappointed.”
In her speech, Wong said a war fought over the self-governing island of Taiwan would be “catastrophic” for everyone involved, arguing it is “our job is to lower the heat on any potential conflict, increasing pressure on others to do the same”.
Beijing last week launched a three-day series of military exercises around Taiwan, which it considers an integral part of its territory, to express anger at Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with the US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
“We call for the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues through dialogue without the threat or use of force or coercion,” Wong said.
“Because, let me be absolutely clear – a war over Taiwan would be catastrophic for all. We know that there would be no real winners.”
Wong declined to say whether she welcomed US President Joe Biden’s repeated statements that America would intervene to defend Taiwan if it came under attack by China, saying it was important “to do all that we can to press for the maintenance of the status quo through both deterrence and reassurance”.
Wong said she felt it important to deliver a “reality check” that nations in the Indo-Pacific would not have enjoyed their “long, uninterrupted period of stability and prosperity” without the US.
“America has often been talked of as the indispensable power,” she said. “It remains so, but the nature of that indispensability has changed.
“As we seek a strategic equilibrium, with all countries exercising their agency to achieve peace and prosperity, America is central to balancing a multipolar region.
“Many who take self-satisfied potshots at America’s imperfections would find the world a lot less satisfactory if America ceased to play its role.”
As for Australia’s largest trading partner, Wong said China “continues to modernise its military at a pace and scale not seen in the world for nearly a century with little transparency or assurance about its strategic intent”.
She added that Australians should not “waste energy with shock or outrage at China seeking to maximise its advantage” given this is what great powers do.
Keating said Wong had claimed to eschew “black and white binary choices” but “then proceeded to make a choice herself – extolling the virtues of the United States, of it remaining ‘the central power’ – of ‘balancing the region’, while disparaging China”.
“As a middle power, Australia is now straddling a strategic divide, a divide rapidly becoming every bit as rigid as that which obtained in Europe in 1914,” he said.
“Nothing Penny Wong said today, on Australia’s behalf, adds one iota of substance to that urgent
Wong reiterated the government’s view that it wanted to see WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s espionage case brought to a close but said it was constrained in its ability to convince the US to drop the charges and its extradition request.
“I know that there are some who like to posit ‘you’re not doing this, you’re not doing that’,” she said.
“But what I can say to you is we are very clear about our view. There are, obviously, limits to what you can do in terms of another country’s legal proceedings and we are not party to those proceedings. We cannot intervene in those proceedings just as the UK and US cannot intervene in our legal proceedings.”
Wong said she was glad United Kingdom High Commissioner Stephen Smith recently met with Assange at Belmarsh Prison, where he has been held since 2019, and said she would press for better prison conditions for Assange.
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