When a draft version of Wong’s speech contained her view that former colonial powers like Britain had to face up to their “uncomfortable” past, it was first seen a fortnight ago, sparking major disagreements within DFAT. The view was that it was an unnecessary dig in the eyes of Australia’s closest friend and the two opponents were just getting to know each other.
But Wong and her team of advisors no longer appear willing to accept dictates from a department they consider far too conservative in their approach at times, and are desperate to make up for lost time. They say they’re just being honest and consistent to make sure they say the same things in Portsmouth as they did in Port Moresby.
Beijing has – through its massive and sophisticated propaganda machine – portrayed countries like Australia and the US as colonial and not aligned with the interests of countries in the region, and they believe that telling a fuller story is a strategic advantage and makes them less overt for criticism from other countries.
“In a time of strategic competition, we must ensure that we are not framed by others, and we are framing ourselves,” Wong told reporters on Thursday (AEDT Friday).
However, Wong may have misjudged that she allowed her comments to be viewed through a native lens at a time when Britain is constantly grappling with its past, from the royal family to the highest levels of government to the nation’s sports teams. They could become a debate about diversity when Britain has its first prime minister of South Asian descent, a black foreign secretary and home secretary born to parents of Indian origin who emigrated to Britain from Mauritius and Kenya in the 1960s.
While her counterpart James Cleverly went to great lengths on Thursday to downplay any problems, Britons remained angry and somewhat confused by Wong’s decision to make the comments on her first visit as Foreign Secretary. It gave the media an opportunity to paint a picture of division and was fodder for the political tribes of both left and right as the West needed to form a united front. Britain has long accepted it remains a punching bag for many of its longtime partners, and has recently endured several gratuitous beatings from Anthony Albanese and Joe Biden.
As a diplomat recently told this masthead, Britain and Australia may be oldest friends, but both nations have outdated views of each other. Australia is no longer the land of the beer-addicted, beach-loving Larrikins of Ramsey Street or Summer Bay, and Britain’s stereotype of white imperialists drinking warm beer and eating bland food is largely incorrect, too.
Australians are capable of having nuanced views of Britain. You can be a Republican, support one vote and still have a deep love and affinity for Britain as your ancestral homeland.
Wong will no doubt blame mischievous right-wing media for wrecking her week, but ultimately the important message she brought about her involvement in the Indo-Pacific went unheard over a clumsy and poorly explained dig. Britain, now desperate to regain global recognition in the wake of Brexit, should have been a captive audience for a fascinating and pioneering woman. Ultimately, it was a missed opportunity.
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https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/how-wong-s-important-message-got-lost-in-a-clumsy-ill-explained-swipe-20230203-p5chm1.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_world How Penny Wong’s important message about British colonial history got lost in a poorly explained dig