Scott Morrison has accused the federal opposition of advocating for China, after Deputy Leader Richard Marles claimed he was free to negotiate with Beijing.
Labor is on the defensive over Marles’ comments made in 2019 and reported by AustralianAs it accuses the coalition of isolating Pacific nations and pushing them to China through sluggish action on climate change.
The deputy leader insists he is speaking out and argues that Australia needs to earn the right to be the partner of choice for neighboring countries.
“We are in a strategic contest with China,” he said. We win in the Pacific and we win by earning the right to be natural partners of choice,” Marles told the Nine Networks Today Show.
“Clearly, under this government, they have failed to do so. I mean, when we were in government, we were natural partners of choice.
Marles argued that the Morrison government was losing strategic competition with China.
He termed the security deal between the Solomon Islands and Beijing as a “critical moment” that raised threats about China’s military presence in the region.
“What he speaks out is a complete failure of the Morrison government to make itself a partner of choice,” Marles said.
The Prime Minister remarked in Marles’ book, Tides That Bind: Australia in the Pacific“Advocated for the Chinese government to do what they are doing”
“And[it’s]arguing that countries like Australia shouldn’t be warning against that type of activity and allowing it to happen,” Morrison told Sky News.
He said it was exposed as a hypocritical Labor claim that the signing of the security deal represented a major failure on the part of Australian foreign policy.
Marles wrote that Pacific countries should be free to engage with China, although they chose to and Australia did not have the right to expect special relations with its immediate neighbours.
He also said it would be a “historic mistake” to base Australia’s actions on strategically denying China.