Prime Minister Scott Morrison has taken aim at China, insisting the Asian superpower is no longer a developing country and should face tougher trade obligations.
Speaking at a business event in Chicago, Mr Morrison celebrated China’s economic success, noting the country’s growth into an economic powerhouse had brought hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
But he said China’s transition to a more developed economy needed to be reflected in the trade obligations and rules that were applied to it by the global community.
“As nations progress and develop then the obligations and how the rules apply to them, also shift,” he said.
“I mean we have not seen the emergence of a nation economically like China, since the United States frankly, and at a pace. So [that] is obviously going to impact on how the global institutions and rules work.”
The comments come at the tail end of Mr Morrison’s trip to the US, a country that has been locked in a trade war with China under the policies of President Donald Trump.
A day earlier, Mr Morrison toured a box factory and attended a campaign rally-type event in Ohio with Mr Trump — a move some of the Australian Prime Minister’s critics have said risked alienating relations with China.
Mr Morrison said a generational shake-up of world trade rules was in Australia’s national interest.
“Australia won’t be a bystander in that process, we’ll be involved. We’ll be rolling our sleeves up, we’ll be playing our part. The real issue is, it’s in our national interest,” he said.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that making the change through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) would take considerable time, but said the pace of change would need to increase for the WTO to keep up with the world economy.
Mr Morrison made the comments before flying to New York for United Nations meetings.
As he arrived, the UN was hosting a climate action meeting, which Australia was not invited to speak at. Speeches were restricted only to countries with new concrete emissions-cutting commitments.
Mr Morrison opted against attending the event and instead sent Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
The Prime Minister did not specifically discuss climate change in his Chicago speech, but he said China should come under the same environmental obligations as other developed nations.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said he did not agree with Mr Morrison’s assessment of China, and suggested that the Prime Minister’s decision to make the call from the United States muddied the message he was trying to send.
“If he is sending China a message from Chicago then that’s a message perhaps, if it was going to be advanced, would have been better sent from Australia so there was no confusion that the Prime Minister was advancing Australia’s national interest,” he said.
“There’s a legitimate debate about the World [Trade] Organisation system but we support the existing system.”