Morrison says Indo-Pacific must remain ‘secure and resilient’ in veiled swipe at China

Macron backs prime minister, saying Australia is at the forefront of threats in the region and France is committed to ‘defending the balance’

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has called for global cooperation to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, lashing China for undermining the rule of law and threatening a world order that “favours freedom”.

In a speech to the council of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, Morrison called for other countries to join in addressing instability in the Indo-Pacific, saying an “inclusive and resilient” region would benefit the globe.

“The defining issue, I believe, for the global economy and regional stability is the security and prosperity environment that is created by ensuring we are addressing the great power strategic competition that is occurring within the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

“Rapid military modernisation, tension over territorial claims, heightened economic coercion, undermining of international law – including the law of the sea, through to enhanced disinformation, foreign interference, cyber threats, enabled by new and emerging technologies,” Morrison said, in an obvious reference to China.

“At this moment in history, international institutions like the OECD, institutions, founded … on liberal democratic markets-based economic models and values, are more important than ever for stability in our world.”

He said a strategic balance in the region that favoured “freedom” would allow countries to prosper and pursue their own objectives, but that the current global trading system and rules-based order was under “serious strain and threat”.

“We have to engage with the rest of the world and economies like ours have always done that successfully. But it requires an integrated, fair rules-based system to engage in that trade and to be free from coercion that can occur.”

“This region is at the centre of significant economic and geopolitical change, and it’s in all of our interests that it recovers quickly from the pandemic and this downturn. That it remains open, inclusive, secure and resilient,” he said.

Morrison made the remarks on the final day of his overseas trip, during which he has attended the G7 summit and finalised the UK Australia trade deal in meetings with the UK prime minister Boris Johnson.

Morrison has been seeking diplomatic support from other world leaders amid Australia’s ongoing tensions in China, which have escalated over the past year through a series of trade disputes.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, publicly backed Australia against Chinese belligerence after dining with Morrison in Paris before the OECD conference.

“You are at the forefront of the tensions that exist in the region, of the threats, and sometimes of the intimidation, and I want to reiterate here how much we stand by your side,” Macron said.

“I would like to reiterate how committed France remains to defending the balance in the Indo-Pacific region and how much we consider the partnership we have with Australia is essential in the Indo-Pacific strategy.”

Macron said the instability required a global response.

“We firmly reject any coercive economic measures taken against Australia in flagrant violation of international law,” he said.

Before travelling to France, Morrison met the US president Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G7 summit, where the issue of Indo-Pacific stability was also discussed.

In London after signing off on a new free trade agreement between Australia and the UK, the British prime minister Boris Johnson said the UK backed Australia, and would demonstrate its support with the deployment of a carrier strike group, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, to the South China Sea.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends,” Johnson told reporters in London.

“But I probably speak for Scott as well when I say nobody wants to descend into a new cold war with China – we don’t see that as the way forward.

“This is a difficult relationship where it is vital to engage with China in as positive a way as we can.”

The G7 summit had issued a statement condemning Beijing for its human rights record and “non-market policies and practices” that undermine the global economy.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian described the G7 statement as deliberate slander and meddling.

“Such moves seriously contravenes the purposes and principles of the UN charter and the trend of the times for peace, development and win-win cooperation,” he said.

“It reveals the malign intentions of the US and a few other countries to create confrontation and widen differences and disputes.

“China is strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed to this.”

He said issues relating to Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan were “purely China’s internal affairs that brook no foreign interference”.

• Australian Associated Press contributed to this report

Contributor

Sarah Martin Chief political correspondent

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