Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 4 March 2022


Russian invasion: Scott Morrison says China must not follow Putin’s path

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. Picture: Getty Images
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. Picture: Getty Images

Scott Morrison has told fellow Quad leaders that Beijing must learn the lessons from Russia’s ­invasion of Ukraine and understand that there would be a heavy economic, diplomatic and political price to be paid for any violation of the international order in the Indo-Pacific.

The Prime Minister told the snap meeting called by US President Joe Biden in the early hours of Friday that the Russian ­invasion was a wake-up call for the world and had ­exposed the threat posed by autocracies bent on reshaping the global landscape.

The joint statement issued by the Quad leaders – Mr Morrison, Mr Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – upheld the shared commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. The four leaders said any ­attempt to unilaterally change the status quo by force within the region could not be tolerated and agreed to meet face to face at a summit in Tokyo to be held in coming months. However, the joint statement did not contain a unified condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine, leading experts to warn that India’s historical links with Russia risked undercutting the strategic credibility of the grouping and its ability to effectively ­respond to the emergence of a Moscow-­Beijing axis.

China and India have ­abstained from votes condemning Moscow and calling for the ­immediate withdrawal of troops in the UN Security Council last week, and again this week in a broader vote of all nations in the General Assembly.

Mr Morrison said on Friday he could not draw an “equivalence between India and China whatsoever” in their responses to the Ukrainian crisis, warning Beijing had thrown a lifeline to Moscow by lifting restrictions on Russian wheat imports and was now working in “instinctive alignment” with Vladimir Putin’s regime.

“India is seeking to ensure that this violence (in the Ukraine) ends,” he said.

Mr Morrison said Australia would continue to “work pat­iently” with India and other partners in the Indo-Pacific, but escalated demands that China join the sanctions campaign against Moscow and use its influence with Russia to help end the conflict in eastern Europe.

Speaking on 6PR radio on ­Friday, Mr Morrison warned that the strategic nexus between Xi Jinping and Mr Putin – formalised last month in a 5000-word agreement – was of “deep concern” and argued that autocratic regimes did not “play by the same rules as ­liberal democracies”.

Concerns at deepening co-­operation between Beijing and Moscow were heightened on Friday by the emergence of Western intelligence reports that senior Chinese officials had asked Russia to delay its invasion of Ukraine until after the Beijing Olympics.

Mr Morrison said Russia had been relegated to a “pariah state” along with North Korea and that it was “paying a high price” for its actions, given the plunging ­rouble, skyrocketing interest rates and ­removal of its key financial institutions from the SWIFT inter­national payments system.

“Russia must pay a heavy and lasting price for what it’s doing,” he said. “This all sends a very clear message to anyone else, any other autocratic regime … and it should be a clear message to not take the wrong lesson out of this.

“If you seek to violate the ­international order, rules-based order and the principles that underpin it, there will be a heavy transactional cost in reputation and in economic terms and potentially even militarily.”

Mr Morrison said there was a “very clear understanding of what the implications would be if China were to seek to realise its ambitions for Taiwan” but argued the situation in the Taiwan Strait was not comparable to the unfolding conflict in Ukraine.

Former Australian high commissioner to India and the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade from 2012-16, Peter Varghese, said he thought India had lost “some diplomatic skin over its abstention in the UN Security Council and in the General Assembly”.

“If respect for sovereignty and non-interference are foundation principles of Indian foreign policy, which I think they are, there was an expectation from the inter­national community that the ­blatant violation of those principles would be explicitly called out,” Mr Varghese said.

“It highlights the difference within the Quad between three countries which are all allies and one that isn’t. The risk here isn’t so much that India will part ways with the Quad … but it is that the pace at which the Quad can move as a China-constraining grouping will be both slowed and determined by India’s position.”

Following the Friday Quad meeting, Mr Modi again stopped short of condemning Russia’s ­invasion of Ukraine.

His office ­issued a separate statement saying the grouping needed to remain ­focused on its “core objective of promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific ­region”.

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