The following article appeared in Pearls & Irritations on 16 May, 2022
Morrison dislikes any one and any thing he can’t control. It is very fortunate for him that News Corp’s hatreds, prejudices, intolerances and racism correspond to his own.
People overseas are foreign to him, they are foreigners, they are opaque, untrustworthy and do not conform or share the norms of mainstream Australia; Anzac Day and rugby. People living in Australia from overseas are also foreigners until they prove otherwise. For Morrison that entails giving up their foreign religion, religious holidays and language.
Morrisons fixed vision on himself is shown in a lack of understanding and interest in the world and global issues such as climate warming. He is oblivious to its effect; he is unmoved by pollution, does not comprehend the forthcoming strain on food supply and supply chains, potable water and sustainability. He cares not about nuclear proliferation or the causes of war. His China baiting is the antithesis of good diplomatic practice.
At the urging of the United States Morrison accused Xi Jinping of aiding and abetting the spread of Covid in 2019. China retaliated against Australia rather than the US, seeing the vassal as an easier target. The retaliation for US subservience was severe. Trade sanctions of $30 billion or more; the US was quick to step in picking up 40% of the lost trade. Some friend, some ally.
Xi Jinping was angry that the civil and independent relationship he thought he had with Australia collapsed so quickly and without provocation from China. Australia cited the South China Sea, cyber-attacks, spying, all of which had existed as issues long before Covid and which had not been allowed to affect a previously good relationship. What had changed was increased US anxiety as China developed a capacity to challenge US hegemony. China has been emboldened by the precipitate US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which mirrored the earlier Russian withdrawal.
Morrison has, without much trouble and with no thought, alienated, significantly offended or failed to impress the leaders of most countries he has had dealings with. The one exception was Donald Trump and it seems that even he had little respect for Morrison. Macron told the world Morrison was a liar. Ardern believes him a fool. She has good judgement. Johnson treats him with disdain, which is quite something coming from Johnson. The Prime Minister of Singapore was moved to give him a lecture, which went over his head.Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam are unimpressed, particularly over AUKUS and he has trashed critical relationships with PNG, Timor and the Pacific Island States.
Veteran and respected Timor Leste leader, Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta has just been elected President. He is due to assume office on 20 May. Morrison has been slow to congratulate him. This was tawdry. It was a snub and will be seen as such. It is a stupid gesture at a time when the Chinese have shown a willingness to exploit Australian indifference and poor judgement in relation to relations with its neighbours. It signals, at the time of the vindictive prosecution of Bernard Collaery, that the LNP has no problem with the bugging of Timor Leste government offices by ASIS. Australia was also slow to offer assistance last year in the wake of a cyclone which killed 42 people and the assistance offered was limited.
However, it has been the Solomons which has signalled a new low in Morrisons diplomatic endeavours. Australia’s relations with Pacific Island States were already problematic because of high handed behaviour, lack of respect, racism and paternalism over many years.
Morrisons wilful support of the fossil fuel industry and derision of climate warming is a source of frustration and anger in the Pacific which is challenged by rising sea levels. The threat to established cultures is real and solutions seen within the region as urgent. The Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, has felt constrained to call Morrison out on his arrogant and thoughtless disregard of expressions of concern from considered voices in the Pacific.
The Pacific is aware of the contempt that Morrison, Dutton and Abbott have toward them from an infamous joke Dutton made, and the other two found amusing, about people in the Pacific being victims of climate change. It was nasty, cynical and cruel and although the Pacific States tried to put it behind them Morrison’s continued insensitive bungling and crude rudeness has seen him exclude himself from future dialogue with the Solomons.
In seeking internal security guarantees from the Chinese government in the form of a bi-lateral agreement, the Prime Minister of the Solomons, Manasseh Sogavare, accused Australian peace keepers, the AFP and ADF, of not protecting Chinese property and the Chinese Embassy from rioters and looters during recent disturbances. He cited this as one of the reasons behind seeking the agreement. He was also scathing about Morrison accusing him of doing a secret deal with the Chinese whilst keeping the Pacific in the dark over AUKUS.
Morrison decided his diplomatic response would be to bully and sledge. He accused Sogavare of singing off the ‘Chinese Communist Party’ song sheet. It was about as patronising as any head of state could be. It compounded an earlier error of judgement in sending two senior Australian security officials to bully Sogavare into not signing the agreement. They got short shrift and were sent packing. Following up on this diplomatic cow pat Morrison dispatched junior minister and political and intellectual light weight Zed Seselja to argue Australia’s paranoid case. Seselja got even shorter shrift. Absent was Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, although given her lack of diplomatic skills and well-known antipathy toward the Chinese and indifference toward the Pacific she most likely would also not have had time to unpack.
In this unfolding diplomatic crisis, which has some way to run, it has become apparent that Morrison does not draw advice from DFAT. He has demonstrated that his go to advisers are the heads of the Australian intelligence services and ASPI.
Morrison bravely hit back at Sogavare saying that any attempt to build a Chinese defence base on the Solomons would cross an Australian red line. He was unable to spell out what an Australian red line would entail.
Sogavare served the next ball accusing Morrison of harbouring thoughts of invasion and treating the people of the Solomons as kindergarten students and by implication all of the people of the Pacific. He also objected to references of the Solomons being in Australia’s back yard. Sogavare said it was a calculated insult as refuse was collected in the back yard, toilets were located there.
Morrison will not be able to retrieve the relationship with Sogavare. He cannot retrieve the relationship with Xi Jinping and Macron. Even if required no one would want to retrieve a relationship with Johnson.
Morrison has alienated almost all he has had contact with. There is not one world leader to whom he is close. Trump, his only international buddy, is gone. Morrison is self-centred and self-serving.