Australia’s foreign minister has urged the UK to confront its colonial past in the Indo-Pacific as Britain pushes toward the region with an inclination.
Penny Wong also warned that all nations must work to avoid a “catastrophic” war in the region, which she says is becoming “more dangerous and volatile.”
Ms Wong and Defense Secretary Richard Marles are in the UK for strategic talks with their British counterparts James Cleverly and Ben Wallace.
Australian Foreign Secretary Penny Wong (pictured) has urged the UK to confront its colonial past in the Indo-Pacific
Speaking at King’s College London, Ms Wong emphasized the deep ties between Australia and the UK, saying that many Australians continued to see themselves as British even after federation in 1901.
“But as the nature of our nations, our regions and indeed our world has changed, so has the character of our relationship,” Ms Wong said.
“Today, as a modern, multicultural country – home to people of over 300 ancestries and the oldest surviving culture on Earth – Australia considers itself to be in the Indo-Pacific and as belonging to the Indo-Pacific.”
Ms Wong welcomed the UK’s increased involvement in the Indo-Pacific and said it recognized that a war in the region would have global implications.
“If conflict broke out in the Indo-Pacific, it would be catastrophic – for our people and our prosperity.”
Defense Secretary Richard Marles (pictured) said: ‘We want to see a Britain engaged in our region’
She added that it is “up to all nations to ask ourselves how we can each use our national power, our influence, our networks, our capabilities to avert catastrophic conflict.”
“I put Australia’s views on this directly to my Chinese counterpart when I made the first Australian ministerial visit to China in three years just before Christmas,” said Ms Wong.
Her travels in the region “made it crystal clear that one of the most important ways our countries can modernize our relationships is the story we tell the world about who we are,” she said.
The senator also pointed to her personal history as a descendant of British settlers in Australia and Chinese immigrants to modern-day Malaysia.
“(That) other side of my family had a very different experience of British colonization,” she said.
Australian ministers Penny Wong (left) and Richard Marles (right) are in the UK for strategic talks with their British counterparts James Cleverly and Ben Wallace
Ms Wong said many people from the same Chinese clans as her father worked in tin mines and plantations for the British North Borneo company, while others – including her grandmother – worked as domestic servants for British settlers.
“Such stories can sometimes feel uncomfortable — for those whose stories they are and for those who hear them,” she said.
“It allows us to find more common ground than if we were sheltered in narrower versions of our countries’ history.”
The Foreign Secretary added that Australia had not always listened as carefully as possible to the countries of South East Asia and the Pacific, but that the government was working to change that.
She said she had visited 24 Indo-Pacific countries in her first six months in office and that the government took an approach “that puts listening before lectures.”
Ms Wong said Australia was seeking agreement with neighboring countries on issues such as food security, economic development, climate and infrastructure.
She said helping countries fight poverty is “the right thing to do” and would also increase security because “stability and prosperity reinforce each other.”
Understanding the past offered the opportunity to find more common ground than if “we remained sheltered in scarier versions of our countries’ history,” Ms Wong added.
Mr Marles said the Foreign Secretary raised the critical point that acknowledging the past enabled deeper relationships.
“It is very important for all countries to think about their past in terms of a gateway to meaningful engagement in the future,” he told ABC TV.
“We want to see a Britain involved in our region and they certainly want to be, because if Britain is involved in the Indo-Pacific it will help bring stability… and that is really important.”