ScoMo bashes cheating China as Aussie trust in Beijing collapses

It’s the great Aussie foreign policy tradition. When we come to a fork in road between the US and China we take it. In his first major speech today comes ScoMo:

“Trade tensions have escalated. The collateral damage is spreading. The global trading system is under real pressure,” the Prime Minister will say in a speech to be delivered on Wednesday.

“Global growth projections are being wound back.”

“As a rising global power, China also now has additional responsibilities,” Mr Morrison says in a draft of his most significant foreign policy speech since the election, to be delivered to Asialink in Sydney.

“It is therefore important that US-China trade tensions are resolved in the broader context of their special power responsibilities, in a way that is WTO-consistent and does not undermine the interests of other parties, including Australia.”

“The ground has now shifted. It is now evident that the US believes that the rule-based trading system – in its current form – is not capable of dealing with China’s economic structure and policy practices.”

“Many of these concerns are legitimate. Forced technology transfer is unfair. Intellectual property theft cannot be justified. Industrial subsidies are promoting over-production.”

“Of course, there are risks of further deterioration in key relationships and consequent collateral impacts on the global economy and regional stability.”

“There is also the challenge of adjusting to the potential for [a] decoupling of the Chinese and American economic systems, whether this be in technology, payments systems, financial services or other areas.”

“But these are not insurmountable obstacles.”

“Our current trading system seems incapable of acknowledging, let alone resolving, these issues.”

“The rules-based system is in need of urgent repair if it is to adequately respond to these new challenges, including the rise of large emerging economies, changing patterns of trade and new technologies.”

“So we will play our part. We will not be passive bystanders.”

“Our approach will be based on key principles. A commitment to open markets with trade relationships based on rules, not coercion. An approach which builds resilience and sovereignty.”

“Respect for international law and the resolution of disputes peacefully, without the threat or use of coercive power. And a commitment to co-operation and burden-sharing within strong and resilient regional architecture.”

“None of those principles is inconsistent with the natural instinct of sovereign nations to compete. And it is not inevitable that competition leads to conflict.”

The only real line of consequence is this:

“Many of these concerns are legitimate. Forced technology transfer is unfair. Intellectual property theft cannot be justified. Industrial subsidies are promoting over-production.”

The rest is important in endorsing normatives but largely diplomatic nicety.

The timing of ScoMo’s China bashing is good. Aussie punter support for China has collapsed. Via the new Lowy Poll:

Relations with major powers

Only 32% of Australians say they trust China to ‘act respon­sibly in the world’, in a 20-point fall since 2018 and the lowest level of trust in China ever recorded in our polling. A bare majority of Australians (52%) trust the United States to act responsibly, which is steady from last year.

Half of Australians (50%) believe ‘the Australian government should put a higher priority on maintaining strong relations with the United States, even if this might harm our relations with China’. A sizeable minority (44%) say Australia ‘should put a higher priority on building stronger relations with China, even if this might harm our relations with the United States’.

Confidence in world leaders

Only 30% of Australians have confidence in China’s President Xi Jinping to do the right thing in world affairs, a 13-point drop since 2018. One-quarter of Australians (25%) have confidence in US President Donald Trump, a five-point drop from 2018.

Australians’ highest level of confidence among the nine leaders polled is placed in New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern (88% saying ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ confidence). The Australian leaders follow, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison (58%) and former Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (52%). Eighteen points behind is Indonesian President Joko Widodo (34%), followed by US President Trump and Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi (both 25%). This means President Trump is only ahead of Russia’s Vladimir Putin (21%) and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un (7%).


A majority of Australians (74%) say Australia is too economically dependent on China. A sizeable 68% say the Australian government is allowing too much investment from China. More than three-quarters of the population say ‘Australia should do more to resist China’s military activities in our region, even if this affects our economic relationship’ (77%, an increase of 11 points since 2015) and believe that ‘China’s infrastructure investment projects across Asia are part of China’s plans for regional domination’ (79%). Only 44% say China’s infrastructure investment projects are good for the region.

A majority of Australians (60%) would support the Australian military conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea and other disputed areas claimed by China. However, only 43% of Australians are in favour of the Australian military becoming involved if China invaded Taiwan and the United States decided to intervene. Almost two-thirds of Australians (62%) would not support using the Australian military if China initiated a military conflict over disputed islands or territories. Only a quarter of Australians (27%) agree that Australia is doing enough to pressure China to improve human rights.

US alliance

Almost three-quarters of Australians (72%) say Australia’s alliance with the United States is either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important for Australia’s security, a four-point drop from 2018. A clear majority (73% each) agree the US alliance is a natural extension of our shared values and ideals and that the United States would come to Australia’s defence if Australia was under threat. A majority of Australians (56%) say the alliance relationship with the United States makes Australia safer from attack or pressure from China.

However, almost half (46%) agree the United States is ‘in decline relative to China and so the alliance is of decreasing importance’, a five-point increase from 2011. A sizeable majority of Australians (69%) say that ‘Australia’s alliance with the United States makes it more likely Australia will be drawn into a war in Asia that would not be in Australia’s interests’. Two-thirds (66%) agree that Donald Trump has weakened Australia’s alliance with the United States.

Australia’s best friend in the world

A majority of Australians (59%) say New Zealand is our best friend in the world, followed by the United States (20%) and the United Kingdom (15%). Only 4% say China is our best friend, which has halved since 2017. Only 2% see Japan and 1% see Indonesia as Australia’s best friend in the world.

Threats to Australia

Climate change tops the list of potential threats to Australia’s vital interests over the next ten years, with 64% of Australians saying it is ‘a critical threat’. Australians have similarly high levels of concern about cyberattacks from other countries (62% saying critical threat), international terrorism (61%) and North Korea’s nuclear program (60%).

A majority of Australians (55%) say that ‘if China opened a military base in a Pacific Island country’, this would be a critical threat to the nation’s vital interests. Concern about foreign interference in Australian politics has increased, with almost half of the population (49%, an eight-point increase from 2018) seeing it as a critical threat.

Use of military force

A strong majority of Australians (80%) say they would support the use of the Australian military to ‘stop a government from committing genocide and killing large numbers of its own people’. More than three-quarters (77%) would support the Australian military restoring ‘law and order in a Pacific nation’.

Half the population (50%) say Australian military forces should be used ‘to fight against violent extremist groups in Iraq and Syria’, an 11-point fall from 2017. However, 63% say they are in favour of the use of Australian military forces to ‘fight against violent extremist groups in Southeast Asia’.

Foreign technology

When asked about priorities for government in deciding which foreign companies should be allowed to supply new technology for important services in Australia, almost half (44%) of the population say the first priority for the Australian government should be ‘protecting Australians from foreign state intrusion’. Significantly fewer (28% each) believe the government’s first priority should be ‘bringing the most sophisticated technology to Australia’ or ‘keeping prices down for Australian consumers’.

Thankfully ANZUS still has political ballast.

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