Australia will not be "forced" to choose a side between China or the US, and will stare down threats as it pursues its own interests, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says.

The rise of Beijing is not a reason to return to Cold War-era divisions and the battle between the world's superpowers should not influence "assumptions" about Australia, Mr Morrison warned in a speech to the British Policy Exchange on Monday night.

"Our actions are wrongly seen and interpreted by some only through the lens of the strategic competition between China and the United States," he said.

"It's as if Australia does not have its own unique interests or views as an independent sovereign state. This is false and needlessly deteriorates relationships."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has participated in several virtual international meetings this week while in quarantine due to a recent trip to Japan. Picture: Adam Taylor PMO
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has participated in several virtual international meetings this week while in quarantine due to a recent trip to Japan. Picture: Adam Taylor PMO

Speaking at the virtual event, during which Mr Morrison accepted the inaugural Grotius Award for his work on the global stage, the Prime Minister said international organisations would be critical in moving beyond the "binary" Cold War mindset.

"The world is not divided into two blocs, each with their own economic realm," he said.

Mr Morrison said Australia wanted an "open" and "mutually beneficial relationship" with China, but was also committed to its "enduring alliance" with the US.

"These are our national interests," he said.

"Pursuing these interests in the midst of strategic competition between the United States and China is not straightforward."

Although he praised China for its economic success, particularly in lifting people out of poverty, Mr Morrison made it clear Australia would not be pushed around by the world's largest powers.

Mr Morrison said this was "further complicated" by having to deal with the "stresses and strains" COVID-19 has brought to global politics.

"The world has been hit by an economic meteor in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic and the failings of our global public health system to provide an effective warning and an integrated response," he said.

"For this reason, I support a global pandemic treaty as proposed at the G20, to ensure we are better prepared next time."

 

The Prime Minister said Australia needed greater flexibility to balance its competing interests.

"Like other sovereign nations in the Indo-Pacific, our preference is not to be forced into binary choices," he said.

"We all need a bit more room to move."

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who Mr Morrison called a "good friend," also spoke at the event.

Mr Morrison said he welcomed the UK's "aspiration" to engage more in the Indo Pacific region.

Originally published as Australia won't be 'forced' to choose on China: PM



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