China challenge confronts foreign minister-in-waiting Penny Wong

“In many ways I’ve been preparing to be foreign minister if we win for a long time,” Senator Wong said.

She said Labor’s approach to foreign affairs would be pragmatic but principled, which she summed up as “founded on the belief that we deal with the world as it is and we seek to change it for the better”.

As part of this, the party had developed a comprehensive policy manifesto that encompassed economics, diplomacy, trade and education for engagement with the region, known as FutureAsia.

She said the election of Mr Trump, Britain’s exit from the European Union and China’s growing assertiveness under Xi Jinping had all been “markers of disruption” and the central challenge facing Australia was the preservation of the post World War II international rules and institutions.

Early test

Asked whether she was concerned by the direction of China, Senator Wong said she recognised it had a “legitimate right to be a law maker as well as a law taker, but we want those rules to be negotiated”.

She said the detention of Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor on state security charges – widely regarded as a purely a retaliatory move for Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at the USA’s request – demonstrated how difficulties with China could intensify.

Asked whether she anticipated there could be an early test from Beijing of a Shorten Labor government, Senator Wong diplomatically parried: “That’s a matter for the Chinese.”

However, she downplayed the possibility of revisiting Huawei’s ban from the 5G network on security grounds, saying: “We will always take the advice of our security agencies.”

On other regional threats, Senator Wong said North Korea was the most immediate challenge but Labor was also attuned to the risk of violent Islamic-inspired extremism.

Senator Wong said Labor would reverse the Morrison government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and plans to open a trade and defence office there, which she labelled a “face saver” after the Prime Minister raised it during the Wentworth byelection campaign.

She said foreign policy under the Coalition lacked consistency, discipline and clarity, typified by such issues as the Israel embassy review and mixed messaging of treating the Pacific with more respect at the same time Peter Dutton stripped accused terrorist Neil Prakash of his citizenship and dumped him on Fiji.

“We have internal division playing out in a foreign policy context,” she said.

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