(Bloomberg) – As escalating geopolitical tensions with China turn to trade retaliation, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is traveling to the UK to meet with world leaders this week with a message: Unity makes peace strength.

“The models of cooperation within the liberal rules-based order that have benefited us for so long are under renewed pressure,” Morrison said in a speech in Perth on Wednesday, before traveling overseas to attend. at the top of the Group of Seven leaders.

In order to support a “world order that promotes freedom over autocracy and authoritarianism”, he urged “active cooperation between like-minded countries and liberal democracies, never seen for 30 years”.

Since relations between Australia and China collapsed after Morrison’s government last year asked Beijing to allow independent investigators to probe the origins of the pandemic, he has become a strong supporter of the strengthening. partnerships between what he calls “like-minded democracies”.

Australia has pushed the Quad Security Relationship, which includes the key ally of the United States as well as Japan and India, to act against what it sees as assertiveness. of China in the Indo-Pacific. At the same time, the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network has increasingly issued joint statements against alleged human rights violations by Beijing.

Indo-Pacific focus

Morrison, who will be the guest of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well as the leaders of India, South Africa and South Korea, will aim to get his message to resonate with other G-7 participants , many of whom have had their own clashes with China in recent years.

The trip will include Morrison’s first face-to-face meeting with President Joe Biden. Morrison is poised to welcome Biden’s focus on the Indo-Pacific region and offer strong support for his recent call to step up and accelerate efforts to identify the origins of the pandemic.

“After calling for an independent investigation, Australia remains firmly convinced that understanding the cause of this pandemic has nothing to do with politics – it is essential to prevent the next one,” Morrison said on Wednesday.

Such language has repeatedly infuriated China, which says it supports the World Health Organization’s efforts to find the origin of the virus. Since Morrison took over the leadership almost three years ago, Australia’s ties with its biggest trading partner have collapsed to the point that ministers in Beijing have refused to answer phone calls from their counterparts in Canberra.

Chilling tariffs were imposed on barley and wine, and coal imports were blocked at Chinese ports. Australian exporters are increasingly concerned that Morrison’s government will make public statements that appear to be stoking tensions with China.

In Wednesday’s speech, he omitted several statements from excerpts sent earlier by his office. These statements were that Australia would not be pushed into unacceptable compromises, that its vital global network relations continued to accelerate, and that it would not set “false deadlines” for the phase-out of fuels. fossils.

“Risk of calculation error”

“The Indo-Pacific region – the Australian region – is the epicenter of renewed strategic competition,” he said. “The risks of miscalculation and conflict are very present and growing. The technological lead historically enjoyed by Australia and our allies is called into question. “

He also calls for reform of the World Trade Organization by reinstalling its appeals body, saying that a binding dispute settlement system is necessary because “where there are no consequences for coercive behavior, there are few incentives for restraint “.

Before attending the G-7 in Cornwall, Morrison will meet with his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday for economic and security discussions. Following his visit to the UK, where he is seeking to strike a first deal on a free trade deal with the Johnson government, his itinerary includes a visit to France for talks with President Emmanuel Macron.

Nonetheless, Morrison has an important political position which he knows will not be popular with most of his Cornish counterparts: he is a strong supporter of Australia’s position as one of the largest exporters. of fossil fuels in the world.

As Australia’s dry continent makes it particularly exposed to the ravages of climate change, Morrison refuses to commit to a date to achieve net zero emissions, instead saying it is the nation’s ambition to get there. by 2050. It’s even as Biden and some of Australia’s biggest fossil fuel export markets – China, Japan and South Korea – pledge to do more to tackle climate change.

(Updates with comments Morrison made in the speech)

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