Scott Morrison to urge China and US to uphold common rules that promote global stability

Katharine Murphy Political editor
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP</span>
Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Scott Morrison will use a speech at Aspen Security Forum in the United States to counsel both China and America to uphold common rules that are designed to enhance both regional and global stability.

Morrison will appear at the global national security conference by video-link on Wednesday morning and urge both countries to follow through on their “special responsibility” to respect international law and seek the peaceful resolution of disputes.

The Australian prime minister will note that China now has a role to play in enhancing regional and global stability, “commensurate with its new status”. The rising power needs to accept responsibility for enhancing “the broader global and regional interest, rather than a narrow national interest or aspiration”.

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Morrison will note the US has always faced higher global expectations, and China is now at a stage of its development where it needs to exhibit the same sense of collective responsibility.

But he says both countries need to play their part. “Together, China and the US have a special responsibility to uphold what [the Australian international relations scholar] Hedley Bull described as the common set of rules that build an international society,” the prime minister will say.

“That means respecting international law and the peaceful resolution of disputes. It means a commitment to rules-based economic interaction. Neither coercion nor abdication from international systems is the way forward.”

Last week, Australia promised to increase defence cooperation with the US in the South China Sea – but the Morrison government stopped short of making any specific new commitment on freedom of navigation operations, despite pressure from the Trump administration.

A joint statement issued after talks in Washington declared that Beijing’s maritime claims in the South China Sea were “not valid under international law”, but at this stage, Australia is not planning to conduct freedom of navigation exercises within 12 nautical miles of disputed features.

Morrison’s speech to the forum on Wednesday will be broad-ranging, according to a text of the keynote circulated in advance. He will note that in 2020 “the liberal rules and norms of the American century are under assault” and international society is under strain.

But rather than “longing for the past”, countries need to accept that the configuration of power in global politics has changed. While Australia wants to see international engagement framed by agreed rules and norms, not “crude economic or political coercion”, and nations have to deal with the world as it is, “not one we’d like it to be”.

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He will say a critical priority is to build a durable strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific, which involves a continuing American presence in the region and like-minded countries aligning their interests – acting “more cohesively, more consistently, more often”.

Morrison will say Australia is engaging Japan, India, Vietnam, as well as south-east Asian and Pacific countries to create new networks of cooperation.

The Covid-19 pandemic, Morrison suggests, “has been an unmitigated calamity for the global community” but it has also “created new opportunities – including for new groupings of like-minded economies to work together”.

Morrison says the crisis has forged new friendships between leaders and “this is a development that our nations must build on”.

He says the times require leaders to take a “more pragmatic and rounded approach to our global and regional relationships” but the goodwill can be undermined “if positive political and security relationships are accompanied by abrasive or confrontational trade relationships”.

“We should avoid cases where we build closer strategic co-operation, only to see the cohesiveness of those relationships undermined by trade disputes,” the prime minister will say.