Scott Morrison says the Covid-19 crisis has created new opportunities for “like-minded economies” to work together – but warned against “solely transactional” trade approaches undermining these relationships.
In a Wednesday keynote speech to the US Aspen Security Forum, delivered virtually, Morrison says expanding the scope and scale of co-operation by like-minded economies must be done “thoughtfully”.
“Security and trade policy approaches must be well integrated, not at odds with each other,” he says in the address, released ahead of delivery.
Although Morrison is unspecific about which countries he has in mind on the trade front, his remarks will be read as a reference to the United States. President Trump’s America First policy, with its aggressive transactional approach and emphasis on “deals” has come with costs for a number of like-minded economies.
Morrison says: “A solely transactional approach to trading relationships can undo some gains made in other parts of relationships with like-minded partners. Australia’s foreign policy is not simply transactional.”
“As we build the network of like-minded economies, we need to build a greater sense of unity across all elements of our engagement.
“That means taking a more pragmatic and rounded approach to our global and regional relationships,” he says.
“The sense of unity necessary among like-minded partners 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.”
Morrison says he is not suggesting seeking to constrain “the national instinct of our business people and exporters to compete in global markets”. Nor should we “turn a blind eye to unfair trading measures imposed by our friends”.
Morrison’s speech continues his recent assertiveness about Australia’s foreign policy and defence stance.
Saying that in 2020 international society is under strain, he emphasises we have to deal with the world as it is, not as “we’d like it to be”.
“The liberal rules and norms of the American Century are under assault.
”‘The jungle is growing back,’ as [US foreign affair expert] Robert Kagan has observed.
“We need to tend to the gardening.
“A critical priority is to build a durable strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific,” which is “the epicentre of strategic competition”. Australia will play its part in this, investing in regional relationships.
More like-minded nations need to align and act more cohesively and consistently, Morrison says.
“I assure you that Australia is not being passive – we’re acting to shape that tomorrow right now,” he says.
“We are building the capability and potency of our defence force, sharpening our focus on our immediate region, and increasing our capabilities to deter actions against our interests”.
Morrison says China has a role “to enhance global and regional stability, commensurate with its new status” as a major economic partner.
“Such a role is about the broader global and regional interest, rather than a narrow national interest or aspiration.”.
China and the US together have a responsibility to uphold the rules that build an international society.