Ex-Australia PM says he also had Beijing in mind when arming Ukraine

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday that he also had Beijing on his mind when he decided to help arm Ukraine given Western concern about the global expansion of authoritarianism.

Morrison, who was prime minister from 2018 to 2022, had repeated disputes with China, including in 2020 when Canberra called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, first identified in central China in 2019.

China responded by imposing tariffs on Australian commodities, including wine and barley, and limited imports of Australian beef, coal and grapes, moves described by the United States as “economic coercion”.

Speaking at a forum in Taipei, Morrison said his decision to fund lethal defensive weapons for Ukraine after Russia’s invasion had a broader message.

“When my government took the decision for Australia to swiftly provide lethal aid to support and assist Ukraine following the illegal invasion by Russia, that decision was taken with as much of having Beijing in mind as Moscow,” Morrison said.

“We did it certainly to support Ukraine in their time of need and to defend democracy there, but we also did it to demonstrate our alignment with a global Western resolve to resist the aggression of authoritarianism, especially given the tacit endorsement of that invasion by Beijing,” he added.

“As I said, I was as concerned about Beijing as I was about Moscow.”

China has refused to condemn Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine it launched in February 2022. It has offered its own peace plan, which received a lukewarm response in both Russia and Ukraine.

Morrison is on his first trip to self-ruled Taiwan, which China views as its own territory and has been stepping up military activity around the island.

Morrison said China’s claims over Taiwan were a threat to the entire region, as it was involved in other territorial disputes too, like in the South China Sea.

“Legitimately in the region one can ask: if Taiwan, then what and who is next?”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)