Asia

ScoMo’s ‘profound’ reason for Canberra snub


Scott Morrison has defended his handling of the Australia-China relationship as prime minister, insisting he never sought to provoke Beijing.

The former prime minister made the remarks at the Global Opinion Leaders Summit in Tokyo on Thursday evening.

In his speech, Mr Morrison pointed to the AUKUS security pact and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue as being responsible for the “most profound” shift in the Indo-Pacific since China “started turning atolls into airports”.

Relations between Beijing and Canberra soured during the Coalition’s time in power, fuelled by several disputes over tariffs on Australian wine, barley, lobster and coal exports.

Mr Morrison’s decision to sign a landmark security pact with the US and the UK only further stoked tensions.

Mr Morrison said Australia had recognised China’s economic achievements but Beijing’s desire to reshape the region had crossed a line.

“I was pleased to be part of and lead a government in Australia that took a strong stand in response to the (People’s Republic of China’s) assertiveness. We chose to resist, not provoke the PRC,” he said.

He said the Quad and AUKUS would make a “positive contribution” to ensuring the rules-based order prevails in the Indo-Pacific.

The speech is expected to draw the ire of Beijing, which earlier this month handed a list of “four actions” Australia must follow to improve relations to Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

Overnight, China President Xi Jinping warned US President Joe Biden against playing with fire, as Taiwan dominated a discussion between the two leaders.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd said a possible visit to Taiwan by speaker Nancy Pelosi was not “helpful in terms of Taiwan‘s intrinsic national security”.

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“We are in what I describe as the decade of living dangerously, which is why we must do whatever we can to stabilise this relationship in the here and now,” he told ABC News.

Mr Morrison also used his address to pay tribute to former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who was the driving force behind the Quad’s revitalisation.

But he stressed the regional alliance should remain laser focused on the Indo-Pacific, pushing back on criticism it should prod India to oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“This does not mean that the Quad should not discuss issues such as the invasion of Ukraine, but rather the Quad’s discussion should be on the implications of this conflict for the Indo-Pacific region,” Mr Morrison said.

The former prime minister skipped the first sitting week of the new parliament to address the forum, which didn’t begin until Thursday evening.

His appearance fuelled speculation he was being paid to attend the event, which also included speeches from former UK prime minister David Cameron and former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

Mr Morrison, who travelled with wife Jenny, visited Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to pass on his sympathies over the death of Shinzo Abe.

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