Scott Morrison will use this week’s G7 meeting in England to ask allies to level more economic “consequences” on China for targeting Australian trade, warning of “growing” threats in our backyard that have gone unpunished.
The Prime Minister will also go to Cornwall to share a strong endorsement of US President Joe Biden’s renewed push for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19, as questions grow over whether the virus escaped from a Chinese biological facility.
“Accelerating trends are working against our interests,” Mr Morrison will say in a major speech in Perth on Wednesday.
“Australia’s region is the epicentre of renewed strategic competition. The risks of miscalculation and conflict are growing.”
Australia was invited by British PM Boris Johnson to join the G7+ meeting this week, as one of four expansion “outreach partners” alongside the initial group of seven nations.
The high-powered leaders meeting will focus on rebuilding after the pandemic, as well as addressing a shifting geopolitical environment.
In a speech to the USAsia Centre on Wednesday, a curtain raiser preview of his focus for the meeting, Mr Morrison will claim the World Trade Organisation’s current dispute resolution measures are not up to scratch, and call for those rules to be “renovated”.
“The trade rules and norms that have allowed us to prosper have not evolved to meet new challenges,” the PM will say, saying current systems are “under strain and even threat”.
“Where there are no consequences for coercive behaviour, there is little incentive for restraint.”
Australia has been critical of China’s trade sanctions on products including beef, barley, timber, seafood and wine.
The federal government has branded Beijing’s behaviour as “coercive”, claiming it is linked to Australia’s calls for an international inquiry into COVID’s origins, and criticisms of China’s human rights record.
An advance copy of his speech, distributed to media by the PM’s office, includes several pointed remarks about China, and again reinforces Australia’s commitment to a COVID inquiry.
“We are facing heightened competition in the Indo-Pacific region. The task is to manage that competition. Competition does not have to lead to conflict, nor does competition justify coercion,” Mr Morrison is expected to say.
“Australia stands ready to engage in dialogue with all countries on shared challenges, including China, when it is ready to do so.”
The PM will say that global nations need to “buttress” the role of the WTO, and “modernise its rulebook” and “penalise bad behaviour when it occurs”.
“The most practical way to address economic coercion is the restoration of the global trading body’s binding dispute settlement system,” Mr Morrison is expected to say.
The WTO is able to approve economic sanctions against countries that have transgressed WTO rules. Just last week, Australia lodged a case against China’s sanctions on barley.
Much of Australia’s recent conflicts with China have been traced, by numerous trade and diplomatic experts, to the Morrison government’s “front-running” of calls for a COVID inquiry.
Chinese state media had accused Australia of being a “lapdog” and “blindly following” the United States in calling for such an investigation, which Beijing has claimed would specifically target China, after COVID was first detected in the city of Wuhan.
President Biden has renewed calls for a COVID inquiry in recent days, and Mr Morrison said he would “strongly support” it in Cornwall.
“I will lend Australia’s weight to growing calls for a stronger, more independent World Health Organisation with enhanced surveillance and pandemic-response powers,” Mr Morrison will say.
“Having led calls for an independent inquiry, it remains Australia’s firm view that understanding the cause of this pandemic is essential for preventing the next one, for the benefit of all people.”
Mr Morrison said the G7+ invitation was a sign Australia was “more connected and more respected today than arguably at any time in our history”.
“We are far from isolated. We have worked hard to ensure we are not a nation that can be easily marginalised and driven to unacceptable compromises,” he will say.
The G7+ will meet from June 11 to 13 in Cornwall.
Mr Morrison’s trip will also include visits to Singapore and France, before he returns to Australia next week.
He is expected to virtually attend next week’s Parliament sittings by video conferencing, as he undertakes two weeks mandatory quarantine on his return.