Australia’s Morrison Warns of Great Polarization in China Swipe
Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, speaks at the National Press Club in Canberra, Australia. (Photographer: Mark Graham/Bloomberg)

Australia’s Morrison Warns of Great Polarization in China Swipe

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is using a keynote address to India’s premier geopolitical conference to warn that the world is moving toward “a great polarization” between authoritarian states and liberal democracies, in a speech that could inflame tensions with China.

There was a risk of a widening split “between authoritarian regimes and autocracies, and the liberal democracies that we love,” Morrison will tell the Raisina Dialogue, according to a copy of the speech that’s being delivered by video link. “The pandemic has accelerated and accentuated many of the strategic trends that have created this very real strain.”

Australia is increasingly reaching out to what Morrison describes as “like-minded liberal democracies,” including key ally the U.S. and fellow Quad partners India and Japan, in a bid to counter what his government sees as an increasingly assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.

While China remains Australia’s largest trading partner, ties have deteriorated in the past year since Morrison’s government called for independent investigators to be allowed into Wuhan to probe the origins of the coronavirus. Since then, Beijing has implemented a range of trade reprisals against Australian goods, including coal, wine and barley -- measures that have been described by President Joe Biden’s administration as “economic coercion.”

Territorial Tensions

While Morrison’s speech doesn’t specifically mention China, he says that “economic coercion is being employed as a tool of statecraft,” while “liberal rules and norms are under assault.”

“The Indo-Pacific is the epicenter of strategic competition,” Morrison says in the text. “Tensions over territorial claims are growing. Military modernization is happening at an unprecedented rate. Democratic sovereign nations are being threatened and coerced by foreign interference. Cyber attacks are becoming more sophisticated, including from state sponsored actors, and frequent.”

Still, Morrison says the pandemic has created new opportunities to build a “durable strategic balance” in the Indo-Pacific.

At the first leaders’ level meeting of Quad nations in March -- instigated by Biden -- Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. vowed in a video conference to promote regional security after each having their own tensions with China in recent years.

Morrison has also moved to strengthen bilateral ties with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, including boosting their nations’ relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership last June and participating for the first time in India’s Malabar naval exercises in November, along with the U.S.

“The pandemic prompted new groupings of like-minded countries to work together like never before,” Morrison says.

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