Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong has used a speech at the United Nations General Assembly to call on China to use its influence on Russia and end the war in Ukraine.
Senator Wong denounced Russia’s invasion of its neighbour as “illegal, immoral” and said the invasion of Ukraine could not be normalised, nor minimised.
“Russia’s attack on Ukraine is an attack on all smaller countries,” she told the assembly in New York on Saturday.
“So, it is especially important for countries that play leading roles in international fora, and countries with influence on Russia, to exert their influence to end this war.
“In this, the world looks to China, a great power, a permanent member of the Security Council with a no-limits partnership with Russia.”
Senator Wong’s comments came a day after she with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the assembly, during which raised Beijing’s lack of condemnation of Russia’s actions.
Penny Wong criticises Russia’s use of UN veto power
Senator Wong also denounced – without naming Russia directly – its use of its veto power on the UN Security Council, to enable “unchecked abuse of the UN Charter”.
“The death and destruction in Ukraine reminds us all how much we have to lose if we fail to protect the UN Charter,” she said.
“…We cannot be passive when big powers flout the rules.”
Senator Wong said Australia would also push for the UN Security Council to make room for other “small and medium-sized” countries from Africa, Latin America and Asia.
The council currently comprises five permanent member states with veto power – China, Russia, France, the UK and the US – and 10 non-permanent members, five of which are elected each year by the General Assembly for two-year terms.
Australia is also seeking a seat on the council for two years from 2029 to 2030.
War near Australia would be ‘catastrophic’
She said the conflict in Ukraine served as a warning about the risk and cost of a potential conflict breaking out in the Indo-Pacific region.
“It would be catastrophic for our people and our prosperity,” she said.
“With the Indo-Pacific’s centrality to global prosperity and security, the cost would extend far beyond our region and reach into every life.”
She announced $374 million in development assistance for nations in the Southeast Asia, adding that a strategy is being developed to improve economic engagement between Australia and countries in the region.
“Australia seeks deeper engagement with South-East Asia. It is a region I know well. It’s the region I am from,” said the Malaysian-born Ms Wong, who is Australia’s first foreign-born foreign minister.
‘Part of the Pacific family’
Ms Wong said Australia was committed to acting on climate change and fostering closer ties with Pacific Island nations.
She said that foreign aid to the Pacific has been increased by more than half a billion dollars and that Australia is committed to implementing the 2050 strategy developed by Pacific nations.
She also spoke of her visits to six Pacific Island Forum countries just six months into the job.
“It is a clear sign of our priorities that, by the end of this year, I will have visited nearly all,” she said.
Minister Wong also announced a doubling in foreign aid funding for Palestinian refugees through a doubling in aid to $20 million this financial year for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
Former Australian foreign affairs minister Bob Carr welcomed the announcement.
Senator Wong also attended a meeting of foreign ministers in the Quad alliance of nations including the US, Australia, India and Japan.
The ministers signed the Quad guidelines – announced in May – on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.