Penny Wong Wants Australia to Be More Than a Supporting Player

Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong listens during a panel discussion during the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Suva on July 12, 2022. (Photo by William WEST / AFP) (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

Penny Wong Is Reshaping Australia’s – Foreign Policy

Can the new foreign minister escape the slipstream of the superpowers?

OCTOBER 1, 2022, 6:00 AM

By Margaret Simons, a principal honorary fellow at the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne.

In 2017, foreign-policy analyst Allan Gyngell published a systematic history of Australian foreign policy. He called his book Fear of Abandonment—a potent summation of the mindset of this middle power, traditionally seen as a European outpost uncomfortable with its position on Asia’s doorstep.

Australia, Gyngell argued, has always conceived itself as dependent for security on great powers: first Britain and then the United States. Britain abandoned Australia during World War II and, as a result, Australia turned to the United States. But now, the fear of abandonment has never been more keenly felt. Australia has watched the United States under former U.S. President Barack Obama promise to pivot to Asia, and then fail to deliver. Then came the hard-to-read chaos of the Trump administration. For the last 20 years, Australia has been attempting a difficult balancing act between the United States and China, its largest trading partner. Gyngell argued that the “slipstream of the superpowers” was an increasingly dangerous place for Australia to be.

Now, things may be changing. Australia has a new, singular foreign minister, Penny Wong, and a Labor Party government elected in May this year. In a series of keynote speeches to regional leaders and at home, Wong has signaled that she wants to change the way Australia is seen in the world—and for Australians to become “more than just supporting players in a grand drama of global geopolitics.”

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