Australia urges China to press Russia on ending war in Ukraine

Foreign Minister Penny Wong addresses the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in New York on Sept 23, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK - Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, in her first major speech at the United Nations, called on China to leverage its relationship with Russia and pressure President Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine.

Beijing's status as a permanent member of the Security Council gives it a leading role in securing global peace, Ms Wong told UN delegates in New York on Friday, a day after meeting with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

"In this pursuit, the world looks to China, a great power, a permanent member of the Security Council with a 'no limits partnership' with Russia," Ms Wong said.

Australia's Labor government has been attempting to repair damaged diplomatic relations with China, its largest trading partner, since taking office in May. While little progress has been made, the Chinese ambassador to Australia has also been calling for a reset in a sign of thaw.

Ms Wong also highlighted Australia's desire for deeper engagement with South-east Asian nations, including stronger defence, maritime and economic cooperation with Pacific island countries, and announced new development funding to the region, increasing its assistance by "over half a billion dollars".

"We want to be the Pacific's partner of choice for development and security," she said in her speech.

In recent months, Canberra has sought to strengthen diplomatic relationships in the region to counter Beijing's growing influence.

News of the signing of a security agreement between the Solomon Islands and China in April shocked Australia's foreign policy and defence establishment.

At the time, Ms Wong called it the Australia's worst foreign policy failure since World War II. The Australian foreign minister has visited six Pacific Island Forum countries since assuming office.

"It is a clear sign of our priorities that by the end of this year, I will have visited nearly all of them," Ms Wong said in her address to the UN.

Ms Wong also underscored the power of small- and medium-sized nations, and called for a reform of regional representation on the Security Council for Africa, Latin America and Asia as she reiterated Australia's bid for a rotating seat on the council in 2029 to 2030.

"Being genuinely committed to the United Nations means being genuinely committed to reforming the United Nations and keeping it vital," she said. BLOOMBERG

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