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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ROHAN THOMSON
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ROHAN THOMSON

Sydney — China must act on its declarations of promoting world peace and join the effort to stop Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Australia's prime minister said on Monday, warning that the world is in danger of being reshaped by an “arc of autocracy”.

Scott Morrison also suggested in a wide-ranging speech that Russia's invasion is not going according to the plan of its leader, Vladimir Putin, who he said has “overestimated the capacity of how he might be able to prosecute this illegal war”.

“China has long claimed to have a role as one of the major powers in the world and to be a contributor to global peace and stability. No country will have a bigger impact on concluding this terrible war in Ukraine than China,” Morrison said in response to a question after a speech at the Lowy Institute think-tank.

Morrison, whose government has clashed with its biggest export partner over a range of issues, said he is dismayed by China's reticence.

“I was listening for the voice of the Chinese government when it came to condemning the actions of Russia and there was a chilling silence,” he said.

China has declined to call the Russian attack on Ukraine an “invasion” while asking Western countries to respect Russia's “legitimate security concerns”. It has called for a solution to the crisis through negotiations.

Russia calls the campaign it launched on February 24 a “special military operation”, saying it has no plans to occupy Ukraine.

Suspending operations

Morrison called it a “gross violation of international law” and “the latest example of an authoritarian regime seeking to challenge the status quo through threats and violence”.

Most countries have cut off trade with Russia and payment companies such as Visa and Mastercard are suspending operations there.

But China has relaxed wheat tariffs to Russia and may supply its UnionPay system, Morrison said.

“This for me just jars completely with what the broader international interest is,” he said. “So long as they have a bet each way on this, then I fear the bloodshed will continue.”

Morrison, whose comments represent a sharpening of Australia's criticism of China, also suggested its silence reveals a natural affinity with Russia that has far-reaching implications.

“A new arc of autocracy is instinctively aligning to challenge and reset the world order in their own image,” he said.

Morrison questioned whether the invasion is going to Putin's plan, as Putin has said it is.

“There is no doubt that Mr Putin is not getting what he was seeking,” Morrison said.

“I think he's overestimated the capacity of how he might be able to prosecute this illegal war. The way that he has just sent young conscripts into flames, I don't see how that would be resonating well back in Russia.”

Morrison predicted a “resistance in the Ukraine which will only grow over time. I think any gains that are potentially made will be very hard to hold”.

Morrison, whose conservative coalition faces an election by May that most polls suggest it will lose, formed a new alliance with the US and Britain last year that was centred on nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.

On Monday, he said the submarine bases will be built on the east coast, home to most of the population. 



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