3 Feb 2023

Aust minister warns of potential 'catastrophic conflict' in Indo-Pacific

1:36 pm on 3 February 2023
Australia's new Foreign Minister Penny Wong attends a government swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Canberra on May 23, 2022.

Penny Wong Photo: AFP

By Caleb Fotheringham

Australia's foreign affairs minister says the Indo-Pacific region has become more dangerous and volatile.

Penny Wong, speaking in King's College University in London, urged all countries to ask how it could use its national power to avert a catastrophic conflict.

She said the Indo-Pacific region is home to the largest military build-up in the world in the post-war period.

"Our region is home to the largest military build-up anywhere in the world in that period, with limited transparency and reassurance," she said.

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

"If conflict were to break out in the Indo-Pacific, it would be catastrophic - for our people and our prosperity.

"And with the Indo-Pacific's centrality to global prosperity and security, the cost would extend far beyond us and reach into every region.

"So we must ensure that competition between major powers is managed responsibly.

"It is up to all countries to ask ourselves how can we each use our national power, our influence, our networks, our capabilities, to avert catastrophic conflict."

Wong welcomed the UK's increased involvement in the Indo-Pacific.

She said Australia had not always listened to countries in the Pacific as carefully as it could have but the Albanese government was working to change that.

Serious pressure being applied

Photo: Supplied

New Zealand-based geo-political analyst Geoffrey Miller (above) said it was a bold, headline-grabbing speech.

He said it was a speech about alliances, particularly in wanting the UK to stay on board, despite all the economic troubles that the country was facing at the moment.

Miller said Penny Wong addressed the pressure being put on a number of nations.

"There's plenty of pressure being applied from all sides at the moment. And there's a lot of pressure being applied on New Zealand, for example, to stay with the West.

"And that was a big story of 2022, the pressure that was coming on New Zealand from the likes of Australia and United States to become closer in the context of the war in Ukraine.

"And in China's Solomon Islands security deal, there was a lot of pressure applied on New Zealand to stay with the West."

Miller said Wong was making the British sit up and think about the potential dangers in a part of the world it has a strategic interest in.

"I think this is a way of trying to bring this home to British audiences to say, 'look, this is the biggest threat the world's faced in 70-years', which is a pretty bold statement to make, given we went through the Cold War period as well.

"But she's saying, 'look, there's an arms race on, there's a competition on, you've got to get serious about it'."