She took the opportunity to lay out a view of geo-politics in the Asia Pacific region that is both subtle and sophisticated.
Senator Wong told her audience: “For the best part of half a millennium, we have become all too familiar with the way in which nations face off militarily, building empires that rise and fall as a reflex of their military strength – or lack thereof.
The Cold War showed us what happens when one power bankrupts itself in competing with another for military dominance.
“What we are now dealing with is both subtle and disruptive.
While economic strength has previously been more or less convergent with strategic strength – that is, economic power has represented itself as military power – we are now confronted by a situation where economic power and strategic power offer divergent means of jostling for pre-eminence.
“The emergence of geo-economic power as an alternative to geo-strategic power, rather than its complement, challenges traditional mindsets and traditional ways of doing business.
Comfortable assumptions that military strength constrains global strategic ambition are challenged by the way in which economic power is being focused and organised.”
In Penny Wong’s view the correct response to these challenges is to work through the multilateral system to develop the necessary policy responses to climate change, trade and strategic issues.
She sees India and Australia as having common interests in these matters which would allow the representatives of the two countries to caucus in international forums.
She also argued for active participation by both countries in uniquely Asian institutions such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Fund which is dominated by China.
Ms Wong is a supporter of China’s Belt and Road Initiative but she seemed to be implying that India’s participation in that grand plan would help moderate China’s ambitions and make the plan more acceptable for the rest of the Asian community.