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Penny Wong on what happens after coronavirus

Jul 28, 2020 • 17m 27s

Penny Wong warns that coronavirus could unravel the rules-based system on which the modern world is founded. The shadow foreign minister says we must guard against trends towards nationalism and xenophobia.

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Penny Wong on what happens after coronavirus

274 • Jul 28, 2020

Penny Wong on what happens after coronavirus

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

In an essay for our stablemate, Australian Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong has written about the way in which coronavirus is breaking down global systems.

She also warns that the virus could exacerbate trends towards nationalism and xenophobia.

Today, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, on the pandemic and the end of orthodoxy.


RUBY:

Penny, let’s start by talking about China’s response to the virus. How did domestic politics, in particular rising feelings of nationalism, affect their initial reaction?

PENNY:

It's very important, I think, to recognize the circumstances and context in which the pandemic arrived. So we already, prior to COVID-19, had seen rising nationalism in many countries. But here, most relevantly, China - also the United States.

Archival tape -- China spokesperson:

“...No force can shake the status of our great motherland or stop the Chinese people and nation from marching forward…”

PENNY:

And we are seeing in the early stages of the pandemic and in the discussion about the pandemic being rolled out. I think China is exhibiting that in its statements.

Archival tape -- China spokesperson:

“Therefore I have been personally directing and deploying the epidemic prevention and containment work this time, I believe…”

PENNY:

So, for example, I think that we saw early in the stages of the outbreak a lack of transparency from China.

Archival tape -- China spokesperson:

“The top leadership were aware of the potential severity of the virus weeks before the public were told of those dangers…”

PENNY:

We saw a campaign on their success in the handling of the outbreak.

Archival tape -- China spokesperson:

“All along we have acted with openness, transparency and with responsibility. We have provided information to the WHO…”

PENNY:

We saw statements from China which discredited Western country’s responses. I thought the most egregious of these was the Chinese embassy in Paris publishing a story which criticised French health workers and fabricated racist attacks by French lawmakers against the WHO director general. Obviously, that was disinformation. That was incorrect. But it also is an example of, I think, a nationalist objective and painting a particular story, which was unfortunate.

RUBY:

Mmm. And what about early claims that were made by the US about the virus?

PENNY:

Well, we've also seen claims made by the United States, by some members of the Trump administration, about the origins of the virus. For example, I think there was a “Wuhan lab theory”.

Archival tape -- Unidentified Reporter:

“Have you seen anything at this point that gives you a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of this virus…”

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

“Yes, I have. Yes, I have.”

PENNY:

Which was subsequently publicly discredited by United States intelligence and security agencies.

Archival tape -- Unidentified Reporter:

“The director of national intelligence today put out a statement saying that they believe it was naturally occurring, was not man-made.”

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

“Who was that, who was that who said that?”

Archival tape -- Unidentified Reporter:

“The office of the director of national intelligence.”

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

“Yeah. But who in particular?”

PENNY:

Unfortunately, the virus and the response to it, particularly in the early stages, but still continuing, has been one of the topics of the competition between the US and China.

Archival tape -- Unidentified Reporter:

“China has matched with its own tough words, and it’s put forth its own theory also unsubstantiated…”

Archival tape -- China spokesperson:

“We think Americans came to the Wuhan seafood market in October when there were military sports games being held in the city.”

Archival tape -- Unidentified Reporter:

“The theory that the US started the virus is mainstream in China…”

PENNY:

So you've had a competing narrative about which country has handled it best, language or suggestions which are not correct as part of that competition.

Archival tape -- China spokesperson:

“...Recently some politicians in the US have linked the new coronavirus to China, which is a stigmatisation of China. We are strongly indignant and firmly opposed to it…”

PENNY:

All at a time when we really need the great powers and all of the world to work together to try and confront the worst pandemic humanity has seen in 100 years. That's a great sadness of this time, I think.

RUBY:

And how much has nationalism framed Australia's response so far? You write in your essay about anti Chinese sentiment being used for domestic electoral purposes. And I wonder, you know, is that something that you see happening in relation to this pandemic?

PENNY:

I think we have to be very careful about this. I think it's very important to recognize, the features of the more strident Chinese nationalism that we see, the features of President Xi's China, which is a much more assertive China, a China which will project interests and values which are different from Australia's, and we are in a much more difficult and complex time in our relationship with China. And we're going to have more disagreements. But it's very important that we do that sensibly and soberly. We do that in a way that demonstrates a strategy over politics.

And I think there is a potential risk, which we've seen, particularly from some Coalition backbenchers, that talking tough on China can be part of a domestic political tactic. I don't think domestic escalation of anti-Chinese rhetoric is actually in our interests. We have a very challenging relationship to manage. We have a whole range of interests that we have to deal with, with China, which range from our interests in democracy and our values, our sovereignty, but also real people: our jobs, our exporters, our farmers who obviously need a productive economic relationship with China.

Ultimately, the US is and remains the world's largest economy, the world's greatest superpower. But neither China nor the US can fully contain or exclude the other. For the rest of us, what we do want is what I've described as a settling point, and others have described it as that, as between the US and China, which recognises that fact. And that enables a degree of cooperation and ultimately coexistence. At this stage that isn't something that seems to be part of the discussion between the US and China.

RUBY:

You write that we must learn the lessons of the 1930s, that we've seen what happens when nationalism takes hold. How serious are you about that? How real is that threat?

PENNY:

Well, I hope it's not a threat that becomes real. I hope, I hope. Hope it's a threat, not a threat that becomes reality, I should say. I always think it's useful to look back to the 1930s. There was a very good essay by Jonathan Freedland that I quoted a couple of years ago where he said, ‘we should never forget the lessons of the 1930s’ - and those lessons should never be forgotten by humanity. And if I may say, I noticed that Mr Morrison talked about the 1930s, too, in his speech recently in relation to defence.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the strategic challenges of today and tomorrow, call Australia in many ways as we’ve been called before at difficult times…”

PENNY:

And he talked about strategic and economic instability and uncertainty.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“...2020 has demonstrated once again the multiple challenges and radical uncertainty we face, eerily haunted by similar times many years ago, in the 1930s…”

PENNY:

And, you know, the 1930s were a time when this occurred.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“Our defence forces will need to be prepared for any future, no matter how unlikely, and hopefully not needed in the worst of circumstances.”

PENNY:

But that's only part of the story. I think the great lesson of the 1930s is what happens when nationalism is allowed to flourish. It is true that our economic and strategic instability mark that decade. But the great lesson is what happens when you allow nationalism with its consequent xenophobia and prejudice and authoritarianism to take hold.

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Penny, you write in your essay that this pandemic could trigger the end of the rules-based system that we've known since the end of World War II. Do you think that Australia appreciates the gravity of this moment?

PENNY:

I hope so. Because I think it is a grave moment. I think this is a moment where many of the orthodoxies and assumptions that we've relied on for past decades can no longer be relied on. We've lived through, as a nation, a relatively stable period in human history. So the period post the World War II settlement, the international rules-based order, the underwriting of it by the United States, has been, in terms of human history, a relatively stable, relatively peaceful and prosperous time for humanity. Now, what we are seeing is a pandemic which is unraveling what a world order, a multilateral system, which was already fraying. Obviously it was already fraying as a consequence of the United States’ view about its place in the world, as a consequence of the actions of President Trump...

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

“I want to talk about this bombshell report revealing the Trump administration actually has drafted new legislation to essentially walk away from the World Trade Organisation, the WTO…”

PENNY:

In particular, his actions towards the World Trade Organisation...

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

“Because we know that they have been screwing us for years and it’s not going to happen any longer, they get it, they get it. So they’re giving us victories.”

PENNY:

The World Health Organisation, other and other UN bodies...

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

“Today I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organisation while a review is conducted…”

PENNY:

And we need to recognize as a nation that as a substantial power, as a middle power, we need a multilateral system that works. We need rules which ameliorate power. We need a mechanism for resolving disputes. We need pathways for cooperation, whether it's in relation to this pandemic or other pandemics which we know are on the horizon, and amongst those is climate change. These all require global cooperation, which requires an international system that works.

RUBY:

Mm. And how does nationalism interact with the withdrawal of countries from these key global institutions? You know, the collapse of multilateralism?

PENNY:

Well, let's take an example.

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard…”

PENNY:

So one of the ways in which President Trump and his administration has justified their withdrawal from some of the UN entities that I've described has been because of their version of nationalism.

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

“From this day forward it’s going to be only…”

PENNY:

Which is America first.

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

“It’s going to be only America first. America first, America first.”

PENNY:

And the consequence of that, where you have countries saying, ‘Well, I'm just in it for me,’ is that you potentially get to both a place of greater competition, you get to a place where cooperation is unable to be engaged in, and you potentially get to a beggar-thy-neighbor approach.

Archival tape -- Donald Trump:

“We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs…”

PENNY:

The fact is, we are stronger in the face of these common threats, such as Covid-19 or climate change, we are stronger together. And an effective response is one where we work together. For example, if the fiscal stimulus were coordinated, that would mean you get more bang for your buck. If the economic responses to the global economic crisis we face were coordinated, that would mean fewer people in poverty. These are the real and everyday consequences of the inability of the current international system to respond cooperatively and collectively to this pandemic.

RUBY:

How much is the coronavirus, a training exercise, if you like, for how we might deal with or be forced to deal with climate change?

PENNY:

Well, I think it's, I think I wouldn't use the phrase “training exercise”; but, you know, it is teaching us about our vulnerabilities. It is teaching us about risk. It is teaching us about common enemies. And we have to learn, both in response to this pandemic but also for the benefit of humanity longer term, how we better deal with these collective threats and this collective experience.

RUBY:

Mmm. And you were minister for climate change. What do you make of our current approach?

PENNY:

Well, Australia doesn't have a climate change policy.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“Australia’s internal ... and global critics on climate change willingly overlook or perhaps ignore our achievements as the facts simply don’t fit the narrative they wish to project about our contribution…”

PENNY:

And the fact that we don't have anything credible in terms of domestic policy has a number of consequences. It has a consequence in terms of energy costs for consumers. It has a consequence in terms of a lack of investment in our energy sector, which has a broader economic impact in terms of cost and reliability.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“Australia is doing our bit on climate change. And we reject any suggestion to the contrary.”

PENNY:

It has an impact on our capacity to engage internationally in an effective way. It undermines our credibility in the Pacific and in South-East Asia. And when we hear Pacific leaders saying climate change is an existential threat, it is the national number one national security threat. President Jokowi came to Canberra and in his speech to parliament, spoke about climate change. But we have nothing that we are able to say that has any credibility about what we are prepared to do domestically or as part of the international community to deal with this threat.

RUBY:

Penny, thank you so much for your time today.

PENNY:

Good to speak with you.

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RUBY:

Penny Wong’s essay appears in Australian Foreign Affairs, a sibling publication to The Monthly and The Saturday Paper.


RUBY:

Elsewhere in the news:

Victoria has recorded it’s biggest spike in daily Covid cases since the pandemic began.

On Monday Premier Dan Andrews announced another 532 new cases and said high-risk industries such as abattoirs could be shut down if outbreaks continue to emerge.

But Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said modelling pointed to Monday's record number of new cases potentially marking the peak of the crisis.

And the NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant has declared the state is facing a “critical time” as 17 new cases emerged yesterday.

Chant said that while most cases have been linked to known clusters, community transmission was continuing.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see ya tomorrow.

Penny Wong warns that coronavirus could unravel the rules-based system on which the modern world is founded. The shadow foreign minister says we must guard against trends towards nationalism and xenophobia – and prepare for the next pandemic, which is climate change.

Guest: Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong.

Background reading:

Australian Foreign AffairsThe end of orthodoxy: Australia in a post-pandemic world

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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274: Penny Wong on what happens after coronavirus