Last year Scott Morrison was a Trump-esque opponent of the international bureaucracy. Now he values international institutions. What has changed?
Xi Jinping and Scott Morrison (Image: AAP)
Fresh from an unexpected election victory after just visiting his friend Donald Trump at the White House and seemingly having the world at his feet, Scott Morrison ventured a bold and positively Trumpian foreign policy perspective last year.
In an address to the Lowy Institute, Morrison attacked multilateralism and international institutions that he labeled “unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy” and “international institutions” [that] demand conformity instead of independent cooperation on global issues. “
“We should avoid any reflex towards negative globalism that forcibly seeks to impose a mandate from an often ill-defined borderless global community,” argued Morrison.
But about a month later, his treasurer contradicted him. In a speech before the ANU, Frydenberg warned “there is no alternative to multilateralism” and urged the world to “regain the cooperative spirit of Bretton Woods”, which has led to “institutions that are important to this day” like the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization and World Bank.
Frydenberg spoke from an economic point of view where Australia is a relatively small country that needs a functioning international order and rules in areas such as trade to be successful. Otherwise we will end up … well, we will end up exactly where we are now, and China is using trade to exemplary punish Australia for criticizing and questioning the tyrants of Beijing.
In a foreign policy speech delivered to a British think tank yesterday, did Morrison continue the Trump act and attack multilateral institutions and damn “unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy”? Unsurprisingly, no. In fact, Morrison changed his tune quite dramatically.
He wanted to explain to the British “why groups and institutions such as the G7, the WTO and the OECD play a role in a turbulent world and indeed in the G20”.
The OECD is important, of course, because he couldn’t say otherwise, while his government is supporting Mathias Cormann’s attempt to lead him with a taxpayer-funded jet.
While Morrison insists that “international institutions are most effective when they are driven by and respond to the society of sovereign states that make them up,” Morrison now sees “international institutions” as the gateway to a world in which “it there “It is not necessary to build global spheres of influence to secure economic opportunities or exert influence. “They would act as a“ breaker ”for international voltages.
From dealing with “unaccountable internationalist bureaucracies”, Morrison has now repeated the meaning of “rule-based solutions”, “rule-based order”, “agreed rules and norms”.
With China having to choose to ignore “a mandate from an often ill-defined borderless world community” and target Australian exports, Morrison’s conversion to a rule-based order proponent is not surprising.
But there was some continuity with that speech last year. At the time, Morrison insisted that “even in times of great power competition, Australia does not have to choose between the United States and China.” Australia would reject “the binary narrative of its strategic competition”. He told the British that “our preference in Australia is not to be forced into binary decisions”.
This, of course, reflects the line that John Howard long used about China and that Australia doesn’t have to choose.
However, the line is increasingly ringing hollow. Australia under Morrison has voted. Not elected the US, although its election anchored it firmly in the US camp, but in Morrison’s words “to remain true to our values and the protection of our own sovereignty”.
Australia’s backlash against an increasingly aggressive Xi Jinping dictatorship reflects clinging to values and sovereignty. It targeted China’s suppression of democracy in Hong Kong; its refusal to provide transparency on the origins of the pandemic that has caused such colossal damage to the world; his interference in Australian politics and attempts to intimidate Chinese-Australians and Australian institutions; his refusal to obey international law in the South China Sea.
Australia’s values are inconsistent, chaotically applied, hypocritical and occasionally incoherent. But what is unusual is that the Morrison government has pursued these values at the expense of our economy, much to the anger of appeasers and Beijing supporters in business and in the commentary.
And it was the right call. As it turned out, our values and economic interests are, at least for now, a binary choice, and we have chosen values.
Morrison is optimistic that everything will be fine. “Greater leeway is needed from the greatest powers in the world to serve the individual interests of their partners and allies,” he said. “We all need a little more freedom of movement.”
The United States under Joe Biden may be more ready than Trump. But China is unlikely to accept anyone.
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