Scott Morrison accuses China of supporting Putin’s war crimes

Scott Morrison has lashed out at China, accusing it of supporting Vladimir Putin’s war crimes by buying Russian wheat instead of Australian grain.

But the former prime minister predicted that despite the bilateral relationship plummeting to its nadir during his tenure, China would long remain Australia’s biggest trading partner.

Morrison made the comments at the Asian Leadership Conference in South Korea – his first public appearance since being ousted from office in May.

Former prime minister Scott Morrison and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Credit:AP

Morrison renewed his attacks on China for allowing 7 million people to leave Wuhan in January 2020, despite Chinese officials knowing that a new deadly pathogen responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic was circulating and killing people.

He said China’s unwillingness to co-operate with the international community’s requests to know how the virus originated had been a “major disappointment.”

But his strongest criticisms were in relation to China’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which he said contrasted with the responses of countries that had remained neutral.

He said that Australia was “all in” with Ukraine and wanted it to win, but that the eventual outcome of the war was unclear. “How will end? Nobody knows, is the short answer to that,” he said.

He praised his successor, Anthony Albanese, for his decision to increase Australia’s aid and military support to Ukraine, as well as his recent trip to Ukraine.

“China’s position … was not an ambivalent position and that was very concerning to us and I said so at the time,” Morrison said.

“Other countries have taken a more neutral position – I understand the reasons for that [but] Australia hasn’t – we’re all in with Ukraine.

“But the Chinese government took a very different position, even to the point of continuing to go around trade embargoes that other countries were putting in for buying Russian wheat.

“Australia’s selling wheat into the world – when you’re buying Russian wheat rather than Australian wheat at a time when Russia is actually invading another country and committing war crimes, those things don’t line up for me and I don’t think for fair-minded, freedom-loving people.”

Wheat accounts for roughly half of Australia’s total grain production, according to the GrainGrowers State of the Australian Grains Industry report 2021.

Russia is the world’s largest wheat exporter, accounting for 18 per cent of exports in the five years to 2020. This compares to Australia’s eight per cent of global share.

Ukraine made up 10 per cent of the world’s grain supply before the war and there are currently negotiations taking place between the UN, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey aimed at letting Ukrainian exports flow, amid concerns of rising wheat prices and hunger.

The war-torn country has also accused Russia of stealing its grain.

Morrison said Russia’s illegal invasion had implications outside Europe – a veiled reference to fears that Beijing could be inspired to move on Taiwan if Putin was successful or could break Western resolve.

Morrison stressed that Australia had no problem dealing with communist regimes, saying that it dealt well with Vietnam and that the difference with China was that it was behaving in an increasingly autocratic and assertive manner.

He said that while all countries should diversify their trade, Australia would continue to be dependent on Chinese exports.

“We were not in the economic containment of China club, that was not our purpose, it was not our goal,” he said during a question and answer session.

“Australia was a great beneficiary of our trading relationship with China … I suspect it will long remain our biggest trading partner.”

In his prepared remarks to the forum, Morrison blamed the difficulties related to managing federalism and a cohesive response to the COVID-19 pandemic for his election loss.

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