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New York: Australia will ramp up its push for a seat on the UN Security Council while calling for Russia’s veto powers on the global body to be constrained as a consequence of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a major speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Foreign Minister Penny Wong was also set to highlight the existential threat of climate change and the need to ensure the world remains free from nuclear weapons.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong shakes hands with a Ukrainian diplomat at the UN.
She will warn that tensions over the South China Sea and military build-up in the Indo-Pacific had given rise to “the most confronting circumstances in decades” and would require a greater collective effort to prevent an unwanted war.
“Military power is expanding, but measures to constrain military conflict are not – and there are few concrete mechanisms for averting it,” she was due to tell global leaders on Friday evening (US time), according to an early copy of her speech.
“So it is up to all of us to act to deploy our collective statecraft, our influence, our networks, our capabilities, to minimise the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation to prevent catastrophic conflict. Peace-building today must rise to this challenge.”
The minister’s speech is her second address at UN High-level Week: an annual talkfest where political leaders, diplomats and captains of industry gather along New York’s East River in a bid to solve the problems of the world.
US President Joe Biden was the only leader out of the five veto-wielding, permanent members of the UN Security Council who attended the event this year, prompting renewed questions about the body’s overall influence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin – who has a warrant out for his arrest by the International Criminal Court – and Chinese President Xi Jinping both declined to attend for the second year in a row.
French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – whose country is engulfed in a scandal over the alleged murder of a Sikh separatist leader – were also absent.
Almost 20 months since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the push to reform the UN took centre stage this week, with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky giving an impassioned address calling for Russia to be stripped of its authority on the Security Council.
Wong will use her speech to back the push for a UN shake-up, suggesting that nations from Africa, Latin America and Asia should have greater representation on the committee – including permanent seats for India and Japan, two of Australia’s Quad partners.
She will also remind the UN that Australia wants a spot on the council by 2029.
And relating to Russia, “we must demand more of the permanent members, including constraints on the use of the veto,” Wong said.
“With its special responsibility as a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia mocks the UN every day it continues its illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine.
“The rest of the permanent members and all member states must be unyielding in our response to Russia’s grave violation of Article II of our shared UN Charter. If we waver in our response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we would be validating the most fundamental of breaches of international law.
“Who might be the next victim of state-based aggression?”
Wong’s address to the UN General Assembly takes place a month before Prime Minister Anthony Albanese heads to Washington for a highly anticipated state visit with Biden.
It also caps off a busy week in New York, in which the Foreign Minister took part in bilateral meetings with counterparts from Israel, Germany, Barbados and Canada, among others.
She also co-hosted a high-level event with Japan on a fissile material cut-off treaty, which aims to prevent the continued production of the material that creates nuclear weapons.
The UN first flagged the need for such a treaty 30 years ago, but decades later no such treaty exists.
“Australia wants a world where no country dominates, and no country is dominated,” she said.
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