Payne says Keating is wrong to claim Australia is trying to form an ‘Anglosphere’ in Asia

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne says former prime minister Paul Keating is wrong to claim Australia is forming an “anachronistic Anglosphere” in Asia, saying it shows a deliberate disregard of the many relationships the nation is forming amid China’s growing assertiveness.

Senator Payne also applauded Labor for supporting the new AUKUS defence pact between Australia, Britain and the United States, “despite pressure from those who have been outside of government for some time and are not on the front line of the significant strategic shifts that have occurred”.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne says Australia cannot assert its interests on the international stage without taking some risk.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

In some of her strongest comments yet on the threat posed by Beijing, Senator Payne warned “China as a major power is asserting itself and pressuring the system of rules that enjoys broad international support and provides broad international benefit”.

Mr Keating last week escalated his attack on AUKUS, with the former Labor prime minister accusing the federal government of turning “its back on the 21st century, the century of Asia, for the jaded and faded Anglosphere”. By partnering with the US and Britain to build nuclear-powered submarines, Mr Keating said Australia compromised its sovereignty.

Senator Payne said Australia “can have friends in more than one linguistic sphere, on more than one continent, of more than one political persuasion”, adding “it is not one or the other.”

“The claim by some commentators, including former prime minister Keating, that AUKUS orientates us towards an anachronistic Anglosphere, shows a deliberate disregard of the many relationships that through hard work we are deepening and enriching,” she wrote in an opinion piece for the Herald and The Age.

She said AUKUS must be seen in the context of the many other ways in which the government was taking a more active role in our region and the world, “expanding our presence, strengthening our contribution and amplifying our voice”.

“Why must we do this? Because the world is changing, not around the margins but in quite fundamental ways that will impact the prosperity and security of all Australians for decades to come,” Senator Payne said.

She said many countries were competing vigorously for a “new strategic terrain” amid the challenges posed by Beijing, but the “rising intensity of this competition need not provoke us into despair or paralysis: it means rather that there are new risks and opportunities and that passive spectatorship is not an option”.

Australia has just completed its most high-profile foray into international affairs in years. Senator Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton undertook a four-nation trip throughout the Indo-Pacific and Prime Minister Scott Morrison had his first one-on-one meeting with President Joe Biden in the US where he also took part in the first physical leaders meeting of the Quad grouping which takes in Australia, the US, India and Japan.

But Australia also infuriated France by cancelling a $90 billion contract to build conventionally powered submarines, while some south-east Asian states have expressed uneasiness over its decision to instead build a nuclear-powered fleet.

Senator Payne said some countries, including in south-east Asia, had “posed legitimate questions about non-proliferation and we have responded to those” and Australia would “continue reassuring our friends that Australia’s work under AUKUS remains absolutely in line with our non-proliferation obligations”.

Senator Payne said there were “few gains to be made on security and prosperity without taking some risk” and rarely has there been “a more substantive fortnight in Australia’s foreign affairs”.

Warning there has at times been an “insular and parochial narrative in Australia that we have to change our outlook, our values, and our character to navigate the changing dynamics in our region”, Senator Payne insisted Australia was “respected when we engage with the region honestly and consistently”.

“We are a proud democracy and much of our cooperation is rooted in shared values – our belief in freedom and openness, free speech, human rights and equality irrespective of race, religion and gender.

“But our approach is inclusive. It allows space for each country to be itself within a regional framework that protects and respects sovereignty. Importantly, our values are consistent with the interests of our partners.”

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