Ex-PMs of UK, Australia, Belgium urge tough action on China

Former leaders from Australia, Britain and Belgium have called for a tougher international approach to China to reduce the possibility of war over Taiwan and respond to human rights violations

Kwiyeon Ha,Mari Yamaguchi
Friday 17 February 2023 15:02 GMT

Former leaders from Australia, Britain and Belgium called Friday for a tougher international approach to China to reduce the possibility of war over Taiwan and respond to human rights violations.

Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison linked human rights violations in China with security in the Indo-Pacific as he spoke at an Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China conference in Tokyo. He was joined by two other former leaders — Liz Truss from Britain and Guy Verhofstadt from Belgium.

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a group of lawmakers from more than 30 nations concerned about how democratic countries approach Beijing, hopes the event will spur more coordinated diplomacy toward China ahead of the next Group of Seven industrialized nations summit, scheduled in Hiroshima in May.

Morrison urged the Australian government to consider sanctions against Chinese officials for human rights abuses against Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang autonomous region while also working on broader security issues.

“My reason for highlighting these broader initiatives is to highlight that any attempts to address human rights violations in China will never be achieved in a region where China enjoys strategic hegemony,” Morrison said.

“It is only from the platform of a free and open Indo-Pacific that such worthy and important objectives can be practically pursued in a region that upholds and respects the global rules-based order.”

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Friday that she would not speculate on the likelihood of her government following Morrison’s advice. “I’m not sure how much advice it would be sensible to take from Mr. Morrison on foreign policy,” Wong told reporters in the Australian capital, Canberra.

Truss urged the international community to coordinate defense, economic and political measures and take a tougher approach toward China to defend Taiwan “before it is too late.”

“When it comes to China, a failure to act now could cost us dearly in the long run. Our governments must signal to (China) that military aggression towards Taiwan would be a strategic mistake," Truss said.

China claims Taiwan as its territory and has threatened to retake it by force if necessary.

“We need this first and foremost to protect the interests of the people of Taiwan but it’s also to protect our interests, to ensure trade and free navigation with Taiwan can continue unimpeded,” Truss said. “We need it now, before it is too late.”

She said she regretted that Western nations were not fast and tough enough in taking action against Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year and that the world should learn a lesson from it.

Truss also called for the use of economic power “for the good of freedom and democracy” and urged the Group of Seven nations and their allies to act as an economic version of NATO.

“That economic weight means that we can influence other countries. It means we can make decisions about how we trade, where we invest, what technology we export,” she said.

Vehofstadt suggested a “new style” NATO that can contribute to global security by having a European defense union as a pillar to serve as a counter to China's assertiveness.

“If we have the same interests from some of China’s unacceptable ambitions, then we need to link forces to face them together, and not separately,” Vehofstadt said. “Therefore, my plea today, NATO should evolve from an ‘Atlantic Treaty Organization’ into a ‘World Treaty Organization.'"


Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

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