SYDNEY • Australia will see a "step change" in engagement with Asia and a more "considered" policy towards China if Labor wins the next election, the party's would-be foreign minister vowed yesterday.
Ms Penny Wong - who would become the country's first Asian-Australian top diplomat if her party continues to lead the conservative government into the May 18 vote - signalled the election would bring a foreign policy pivot to Asia.
Promising policies that would see more Asian languages taught in Australian schools and an increase in Australian diplomats abroad, Malaysian-born Ms Wong also signalled her wish to have a more constructive relationship with Beijing.
"We don't pre-emptively frame China only as a threat," she said, drawing contrast with Prime Minister Scott Morrison's administration.
Like Labor governments before, she promised a "more considered, disciplined and consistent approach to the management of Australia's relationship with China".
Successive Australian administrations have struggled to balance a vital trading relationship with China and the Chinese government's authoritarian reflex.
That balance has become more fraught as President Xi Jinping looks to exercise China's regional clout to take advantage of waning United States influence.
Ms Wong acknowledged that the relationship with China "may become harder to manage" in the future.
"At times, our interests will differ. And challenges in the relationship may intensify... We must be grounded in the realities. China is not a democracy nor does it share our commitment to the rule of law."
But she said the realities of the region were changing.
"Those realities include the fact that China will remain important to Australia's prosperity. It is not simply a matter of a 'diplomatic reset'.
"Fundamentally, we are in a new phase in the relationship."
Ms Wong backed a relationship with the US that is "fundamental" to Australian security, but acknowledged that "power is shifting".
She noted: "The global order we have known and relied upon since World War II is being transformed.
"Australia's prosperity and security is shaped by the region in which we live - the Indo-Pacific," she said, adding that the possibility of an Asian-Australian foreign minister was testament to that fact.
"What is significant about that possibility is not my personal attributes," she said.
"Rather, what would be significant about an Asian Australian being our foreign minister is what it says about us."
She said her first visit abroad as foreign minister would be to Indonesia and Malaysia.