Scott Morrison has urged China to stop seeing Australia as a country that only follows the United States’ lead when it comes to foreign policy matters.
The prime minister used his speech at a virtual Policy Exchange think tank event to clarify that Australia makes decisions based on its own national interests.
Assumptions that it is just pleasing the US “is false and needlessly deteriorates relationships”, Mr Morrison said on Monday night, in an attempt to ease tensions between China and Australia.
“It’s as if Australia does not have its own unique interests or views as an independent sovereign state,” he said.
Mr Morrison said Australia was pursuing its own interests when it decided to halt the involvement of Huawei, block 10 Chinese foreign investment deals across infrastructure, and push for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus.
“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.
The prime minister, who made the address virtually while in isolation at The Lodge, was awarded the think tank’s inaugural Grotius Prize in honour of founding international law thinker Hugo Grotius.
He stressed that Australia was not strategically trying to contain China.
Beijing’s views had become “heavily clouded and distorted” by the contest between the incumbent and rising powers, he said.
Mr Morrison called for a transparent and mutually beneficial relationship with China as pursuing Australia’s goals was being made more complex by assumptions cast on its actions.
He also reaffirmed Canberra’s commitment to the US alliance because of a shared world view, liberal democratic values and market-based economies.
“At all times we must be true to our values and the protection of our own sovereignty,” Mr Morrison said.
“These are our national interests. Pursuing these interests in the midst of strategic competition between the United States and China is not straightforward.”
Australia’s relationship with China has suffered in recent years with a diplomatic row bleeding into trade disputes.
“If we are to avoid a new era of polarisation, then in the decades ahead, there must be a more nuanced appreciation of individual states’ interests in how they deal with the major powers,” Mr Morrison said.
“Stark choices are in no-one’s interests.
“Greater latitude will be required from the world’s largest powers to accommodate the individual interests of their partners and allies. We all need a bit more room to move.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also addressed the event.
Mr Morrison said he looked forward to working with the UK to make the COP26 summit next year “a major step forward in dealing with the challenge of climate change”.