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Has Penny Wong given us a fighting chance of significantly slowing China’s expansion in the Pacific?

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 24 June 2022

Readers will be aware of my significant pessimism at our capacity to slow, let alone stop, China' s expansion in the Pacific, and particularly the South Pacific.

It is early in the life of the new Australian Government, but I have moved from pessimism to optimism and the new Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong, deserves much of the credit for that.

The contrast between the approach to the region - and China's influence - by the former Foreign Minister and her Labor successor could hardly be greater.


In four weeks Senator Wong has visited four South Pacific nations - Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and the Solomon Islands. In the last three years Senator Marise Payne visited just three of our neighbours!

She left engagement with the region to a junior minister - something which was a constant source of irritation in our region, especially in Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

I agree with them. It is not insignificant that the lion's share of China's engagement with the region is undertaken by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

In recent years China has elevated the Pacific, and especially the South Pacific, to a high status in its foreign policy agenda. Until quite recently we simply had not done the same. That was a serious error on our part.

It is inevitable that Senator Wong will allocate some of the responsibility for regional engagement to the Minister for the Pacific and International Development to one of her junior ministers, Pat Conroy MP.

It is to be hoped she will maintain an activist hands-on approach to engagement with our region. It will not have escaped her notice or that of the Prime Minister that she has been extremely well received by regional leaders.


She has shown them a level of respect that was just not in evidence in recent years.

The government is clearly developing a series of policies that will appeal to our neighbours. Hopefully it will focus more on greater people engagement and less on cash aid.

As I have written sport has the potential to greatly enhance our engagement in a way that China cannot hope to.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu – Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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