Australia's urgent call to prevent military ‘catastrophe’ with China

While Australia's relationship with China has thawed since Labor came to government in May, the country's foreign minister says important work is required to avoid a military "catastrophe" in our region.

Penny Wong has called for critical "guardrails" to be agreed upon to govern the relationship between the world's two largest economies – the United States and China – in order to avoid a devastating conflict.

Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC on Wednesday (local time), Ms Wong praised US President Joe Biden's actions in meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this year to establish such guardrails and argued that putting "hard limits" on Chinese and US security policies was vital to ensuring peace.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong speaks at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Source: AAP
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong speaks at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Source: AAP

"We welcome President Biden's leadership. It is in all the world's interests that his overtures are met.

"We hope that, contrary to suggestions from some analysts, Beijing does see an interest in pursuing a joint strategic framework with Washington," she said.

"The kind of international leadership we need to prevent catastrophe must be supported and encouraged across the political systems of both China and America."

Senator Wong said Australia's aim was to do more than "establish military deterrents to conflict".

"Building the conditions for a peaceful, open, stable and prosperous world in which sovereignty is respected must be the principal aim of Australia's diplomacy, of America's diplomacy, of every nation's diplomacy," she said.

The minister noted the world faced "the most challenging strategic circumstances in the post-war period", with the Indo-Pacific region being home to "the largest military build-up anywhere in the world".

North Korea has conducted more than 60 missile launches this year. And in August, five Chinese ballistic missiles were reported to have fallen in Japan's exclusive economic zone.

Citing former Labor PM Kevin Rudd, who has repeatedly warned of the dangers posed to Australia by China's growing assertiveness in the region, Ms Wong pointed to the First World War as an example of how relations can quickly spiral into conflict when nations have engaged in a rapid arms build-up.

"1914 reminds us that once mobilisation starts and a low-level shooting match gets underway, all efforts overnight swing from diplomacy to military and the desperate need to win," she said.

"But we are not hostages to history. We decide what we do with the present. And we decide what we do to help shape the region that we want," Ms Wong said.

"We want to live in a region that is open, stable, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty."

with AAP

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