Penny Wong has already made history as both the first Asian-born and openly gay woman to become Australia’s top diplomat. Now she’s quickly confronting the nation’s most difficult geopolitical challenge in decades.

Within days of being sworn in on May 23, Wong — born to a Chinese Malaysian father — rushed to Fiji to counter a rare trip to nearby Pacific island countries by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. He aimed to sign a sweeping regional deal to entrench Beijing’s influence after reaching a security agreement with the Solomon Islands that may allow naval ships to dock some 2,000 kilometers from Australia’s coast.

A trained lawyer, the 53-year-old Wong said Australian aid wouldn’t come "with strings attached, nor impose unsustainable financial burdens” — a pointed reference to China’s agreements with developing countries around the world. She later said the security of Pacific island nations "needed to be determined by the region” and is taking a second trip, this time to Tonga and Samoa on Wednesday.