Former Australian PM Scott Morrison blasts the west’s ‘appeasement’ of China

Scott Morrison Omicron

Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has accused the west of “appeasing” Beijing and said that he ran out of time to introduce sanctions on China.

In speech extracts distributed by a conference in Tokyo on Friday in advance of his speech, Morrison draws a parallel to 1938 – the year before the outbreak of the second world war – when the then British prime minister returned from talks with Adolf Hitler and appeased the German dictator.

“The benign and accommodating view of China has proved to be, arguably, the most misplaced assumption in international relations since Neville Chamberlain proclaimed ‘peace in our time’ on his return from Munich in 1938,” Morrison will say.

“It has led the west to appease China’s ambitions, including the conversion of island atolls into military installations in the South China Sea, and partitioning global concerns about China’s human rights record from the main track of strategic dialogue with and about China.”

Morrison is also expected to speak of how he “rallied like-minded countries through initiatives such as the Quad and Aukus to call out the bullying of the Chinese government”.

The extracts were distributed to Guardian Australia and other media outlets by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a group of parliamentarians that urges democracies to take a strong coordinated strong stand against the Chinese Communist party.

The former British prime minister Liz Truss is among the political figures due to address the Ipac-organised symposium in Tokyo.

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Other parts of Morrison’s speech were provided to the Australian newspaper, including his call for the Albanese government to consider “whether our new sanctions regime should be applied to any Chinese nationals for human rights abuses, especially in Xinjiang”.

Morrison will tell the event there is “certainly credible and actionable evidence that has been gathered against such individuals”, despite the Chinese government’s denials.

But he will also say he understands “there are always practical issues to consider within the relationship, not the least being the practical issues of possible impacts on Australian citizens being held by the Chinese government”.

In December 2021,both houses of parliament passed the Morrison government’s sanctions laws that made it easier to target foreign government officials for “gross human rights violations” and “egregious acts of international concern”, including cyber-attacks.

But between the passage of the laws and the May 2022 election, the Morrison government used the sanctions powers only once in relation to the Russian case that was the original spark for the global push for “Magnitsky” sanctions laws.

These measures, announced by then foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, in March 2022, applied to “Russian individuals responsible for the corruption that Sergei Magnitsky uncovered and those complicit in his subsequent mistreatment and death”.

Shortly after the election, Payne’s former chief of staff Justin Bassi expressed regret about the previous government’s failure to introduce Xinjiang-related sanctions. Bassi wrote in June that it “was a mistake for the previous Australian government to have left it to the new government”.

At the height of diplomatic tensions between China and Australia in 2020, Beijing blocked phone calls and meetings between Australian government ministers and their direct counterparts in the wake of the Morrison government’s early public push for a Covid origins inquiry.

The Morrison government accused Beijing of engaging in “economic coercion” by rolling out tariffs or unofficial bans on a range of Australian exports, including wine, barley, red meat, lobsters and coal.

Chinese officials had argued the Australian government must first take steps “to arrest the decline of the bilateral relationship” and create a better mood for talks. But there have been a series of ministerial meetings since the election, and Anthony Albanese met Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 in November.

On Friday Morrison will welcome the resumption of dialogue but will say it “has occurred because Australia took a strong stand”, the Australian reported.

The Albanese government maintains that it has not given ground on Australia’s national interests or policy positions, including on the Quad, Aukus, human rights, trade impediments, international law and the South China Sea.

But the foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, said the government had taken “a much more calm and consistent tone and approach in our relationship with China”.

She told a Senate hearing on Thursday that the China relationship had become “a heated topic of domestic political debate under the previous government, which we didn’t regard as being in our national interest”.

“We’re not going to agree on everything,” Wong said. “In fact there may be many things we don’t agree on, but it is better for us to have a capacity to engage about those issues."

“The overarching approach is to not shift from those things which are about Australia’s interests and about who we are, but at the same time seek to manage those differences and not seek to prosecute a domestic political agenda with them.”

Wong said the government was “deeply troubled by the ongoing delays” in the cases of two Australian citizens, Cheng Lei and Dr Yang Jun, who have been detained in China on national security-related accusations, and would continue to call for them “to be reunited with their families as soon as possible”.

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