As Biden inflicts a new cold war, his acolyte Morrison shows he has learned nothing from his blunders on China

Jun 17, 2021
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Morrison’s first trip overseas since COVID has shown him as one-eyed, unfair and unwise in his attempt to push his anti-China agenda on the world stage. He has succeeded in making a bad situation even worse. His worship-America policy has helped Biden into a new cold war, this time aimed against China.

Morrison’s overseas trip began in Singapore, where he and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong discussed a travel bubble. At their final press conference on 10 June, they finished with discussions on relations with China. Lee told him: “You don’t have to become like them, neither can you hope to make them become like you”. He went on to urge Morrison to deal with China as a partner, not an adversary. Morrison seemed to be somewhat upset at this rebuke and hurried away without following local protocol of putting on a face mask (unlike Lee who did). He seemed to be a boy who had been scolded by somebody who knew much more about China than he did. He’d just told Lee that Australia valued his advice. Well, I wish he’d been more forthcoming on the issue of China.

Morrison then went on to Cornwall in England, where he was an invited guest at a meeting of the Group of Seven, with the leaders of these countries meeting face to face for the first time since COVID. In particular, he planned a one-on-one meeting with Biden, which never happened because Boris Johnson gate-crashed. Apart from drawing the ire of virtually everybody due to his refusal to commit to carbon neutrality by 2050, he pushed his anti-China agenda as hard as he could. Biden and Morrison are trying to slow China’s rise back for no other reason than that China is doing very well. They appear to think that any country that does well is a threat to them unless it is prepared to obey and follow the Western powers subserviently.

They are quite explicit about this. The reason they are preparing to allocate money to non-Western countries is that China’s rise has made them no longer the go-to source for aid, vaccines and especially infrastructure assistance. Because China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has drawn so much support, despite the constant Western harping on “debt dependency” to China, the rich West and Japan have now decided it had better help others a bit more, or China will completely supplant them.

As of the middle of 2020, the BRI, set up in 2013, had facilitated over 2,600 projects among 100 emerging economies. At Biden’s initiative, the just-finished G7 meeting, the seven countries decided to set up a rival group to “counter” the BRI.

It seems to me most unlikely that it will carry out its real intent, namely to halt China’s rise and persuade the non-Western economies to withdraw support from BRI. Not only is BRI now well advanced, but the G7 economies are going to have to massively increase their debt to deal with this. The United States Congress has already shown it is not in a mood particularly favourable to doling out large sums of money, even for Americans, let alone for others. I would not bet on the success of this Johnny-come-lately attempt to counter the BRI.

Then there’s the question of COVID. The G7 concluded with a promise to vaccinate the world but did not allocate nearly enough money for the purpose. Morrison is again throwing his weight behind yet another independent investigation of the origins of the virus. Apparently, the first one did not bring in the result he wanted, which was to put the blame on China. It seems as though the second one is also aimed at China because American security services think the first virus may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after all.

This is despite the fact that the woman at the centre of the controversy, Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute, has consistently and vehemently denied the suggestion. On 15 June the New York Times quoted her as saying in response to questions about whether the virus escaped from her lab, “How on earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no evidence?” It seems some country leaders, especially Biden but including Morrison, are determined to think the worst of China.

The G7 meeting’s final communique contains a few negative references to China. Apart from another investigation into the origins of COVID, there is criticism of human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and concern over the Taiwan Strait. Actually, these points were buried deep in the communique and you had to look hard to find them. There was none of the hype about genocide or crimes against humanity that we’ve seen so much lately. The mainstream press picked on this newsworthy item and China also issued an extremely hostile statement against people who would slander China and interfere in its internal affairs.

It was Biden who was leading the negativity about China, strongly supported by Johnson and Morrison. The continental European countries were much less sure. Macron of France went out of his way to suggest that China was not an enemy, while Germany, Italy and the European Union also pushed back on this relentless criticism of China.

One issue which united the G7 countries really was climate change. Here, Morrison stood out for his disagreement on becoming carbon neutral by 2050. And at the same time, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack was lauding the continued economic contribution of coal. By selling coal, we can pay for hospitals, schools and similar items. The Australian government seems in no hurry to move exclusively to renewable energy.

My take on Morrison’s first overseas visit since COVID is that the mainstream press in Australia has been hopelessly kind about him. He doesn’t seem to have learned anything from previous mistakes about China. He seems determined to pour petrol on the fire already created to damage Australia’s relationship with them. However, to be fair, after G7 Morrison did reach a free-trade agreement with Britain, and had an audience with the Queen.

And as for the promise to vaccinate the world without agreeing on a financing package, I think the former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had a point when he commented that the G7 summit would be remembered as an “unforgivable moral failure”.

In a follow-up meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels, Biden showed his full colours by a comprehensive condemnation of China on the grounds that it was getting too influential and powerful for the comfort of the United States-led countries. NATO was designed against the Soviet Union shortly after the end of World War II, but now is targeting China. Of course, China objected in the most vociferous way possible, complaining that it was being slandered for its peaceful rise.

Several European countries, especially Germany, complained that they still wanted to engage with China. It might be a challenge, but was not a rival, and was still a partner. They did not wish for a new cold war with China. That, however, is precisely what Biden is going out of his way to inflict on them. Morrison was, fortunately, not at the NATO meeting, remaining in England. Biden will go to Geneva to meet with Putin. If the past is any guide, he will insult Putin and expect him to take the criticism lying down.

If there was ever any doubt about a new cold war, I think the last few days have dispelled it.

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