China must end its “chilling silence” and join the effort to stop Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “no country in the world will have a bigger impact” in bringing the war to an end, Australia’s prime minister has said.
Scott Morrison also warned Russia and China’s relationship means the world faces the danger of being reshaped by an “arc of autocracy”.
In his wide-ranging speech at the Lowy Institute think thank, Mr Morrison said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine wasn’t going to plan and Vladimir Putin had “overestimated the capacity of how he might be able to prosecute this illegal war”.
The Australian prime minister later said in response to a question: “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.”
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Mr Morrison, whose government has clashed with its biggest export partner over a range of issues, said he was dismayed by China’s lack of action in relation to the invasion.
He said: “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.”
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.
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Russia has called the campaign it launched on 24 February a “special military operation” and insists it has no plans to occupy Ukraine.
Mr 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 had cut off trade with Russia and payment companies like Visa and Mastercard are suspending operations there.
However, China has relaxed wheat tariffs to Russia and may supply its UnionPay system, Mr Morrison said.
He added: “This for me just jars completely with what the broader international interest is.
“So long as they have a bet each way on this, then I fear the bloodshed will continue.”
Mr Morrison, whose comments represent a sharpening of Australia’s criticism of China, also suggested its silence
revealed a natural affinity with Russia that had far-reaching implications.
“A new arc of autocracy is instinctively aligning to challenge and reset the world order in their own image,” he said.
It comes as China’s foreign minister said his country’s Red Cross will provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Speaking at his annual news conference on the sidelines of China’s annual meeting of parliament, Wang Yi also said China has always been “objective and fair” in relation to the invasion.
He added that solving “complex problems requires calmness and rationality” and peace negotiations “must persist through dialogue”.
Wang Yi said China will continue to promote talks and countries “must focus on the long-term stability in the region”.
He added that Russia and China’s relationship not only brings benefits to its own people, but also to the rest of the world.
Wang Yi added that Russia and China’s relationship is as “firm as a rock” and must be “free from interference by third parties”.
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Meanwhile, in his speech, Mr Morrison questioned whether the invasion was going according to Mr Putin’s plan.
He said: “There is no doubt that Mr Putin is not getting what he was seeking.
“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.”
Mr Morrison predicted a “resistance in the Ukraine which will only grow over time”, adding: “I think any gains that are potentially made will be very hard to hold”.
The Australian prime minister, whose conservative coalition faces an election in May that most polls suggest it will lose, formed a new alliance with the United States and Britain last year that was centred around nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.
On Monday, he said the submarine bases would be built on the east coast, home to most of the population.