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PM warns of threats facing our region, revives criticism of negative globalism

Delivering a virtual address to the Aspen Security Forum, Mr Morrison will say the Indo-Pacific is now the “epicentre of strategic competition”.

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The Prime Minister will name growing tensions over territorial claims, the unprecedented pace of regional military modernisation, foreign interference, cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns as the major threats facing the region.

“The reaction of some has been to fret about the weakening of the rules-based international order,” Mr Morrison will say, according to a draft of the speech.

“We want to see international engagement framed by agreed rules and norms, not crude economic or political coercion.”

His speech comes after former prime minister Kevin Rudd on Tuesday warned growing tensions between the United States and China could lead to “not just a new Cold War, but a hot one as well”.

Kevin Rudd on Tuesday warned growing tensions between the US and China could lead to "not just a new Cold War, but a hot one as well".

Kevin Rudd on Tuesday warned growing tensions between the US and China could lead to “not just a new Cold War, but a hot one as well”.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

In a piece for Foreign Affairs magazine, Mr Rudd said the “once unthinkable outcome – actual armed conflict between the United States and China – now appears possible for the first time since the end of the Korean War”.

On Tuesday the opposition defence spokesman Richard Marles used a speech at the National Press Club to criticise the Morrison government for the way it had handled the China relationship.

“We’re seven years into this government and there is not one relationship of significance which exists between a Morrison government minister and a senior member of the Chinese government,” he said.

Mr Marles said the annual dialogue between the two countries’ military chiefs was “the highest level of engagement between the two nations right now”. He did not back down from comments he made in Beijing in a speech last year calling for greater defence co-operation between Australia and China.

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Mr Marles said Labor would be stronger on Beijing in some areas, including leaving open the option of freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, and would not let backbenchers lead the debate on China, accusing the Morrison government of letting “fringe dwellers” damage Australia’s relationship with its biggest trading partner.

Mr Morrison first sounded the alarm about “negative globalism” in a speech to the Lowy Institute last year, when he ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to review Australia’s commitments to multilateral organisations.

Since then, Australia used its relative success in suppressing the virus to push for an independent review into the coronavirus at the World Health Assembly, a move which angered Beijing but was welcomed by many in the international community including the European Union.

Mr Morrison will say his view “hasn’t changed” since last year’s speech, saying the trend of negative globalism was concerning.

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“As I said then and repeat now, we believe in a positive globalism: where nations like Australia engage directly with others, as equals, in the pursuit of common objectives,” Mr Morrison will say.

“When global institutions and their bureaucracies become unaccountable, when they become vulnerable to manipulation, when they lose the confidence of their membership, they fail in their task to help sovereign nations agree ‘common sets of rules’ to guide their relationships.”

Mr Morrison will say Australia’s new defence update, which was released in late June and committed the nation to purchasing long-range domestic missiles, was “a major strengthening of our force posture”.

“We are building the capability and potency of our defence force, sharpening our focus on our immediate region, and increasing our capabilities to deter actions against our interests,” he will say.

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Pointing out that this year marks the 75th anniversary of victory in the Pacific, Mr Morrison will say that nations now need to bring the same approach to bringing stability and security to the region, which involved building new “friendships, including with old enemies”.

He will say China and the US have a special responsibility to uphold the “common set of rules” that helped build an international society.

“That means respecting international law and the peaceful resolution of disputes,” Mr Morrison will say.

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