Former foreign minister Julie Bishop has called for Australia to step up as the “voice of reason” amid escalating tensions between the United States and China.
In a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Ms Bishop said other countries looked to Australia to “call it as it is”.
“I don’t over-estimate Australia’s role in such a vexed issue …. I believe that we have a role to play and that there is an expectation that we would.”
She told reporters like-minded countries look to Australia to be a voice of reason.
“I was reassured, if you like, from comments of Prime Minister Trudeau and others in my recent overseas trips that they do look to Australia to call it as it is,” she said.
Delivering the Australian National University’s annual Australia and the world lecture, Ms Bishop spoke about the growing rift between the two global powers and the “exquisite dilemma” for countries like Australia.
“For the first time in our history, our major trading partner is not also a major defence and strategic ally,” she said.
“In fact, our major trading partner is in open economic conflict with our major defensive strategic ally.”
Ms Bishop said the rivalry, currently playing out in trade tensions and geopolitical posturing, could be seen as a challenge to the rules-based international order.
Quoting the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, Ms Bishop said the tension between the two countries risked the possibility of a “great fracture” – where the two largest economies would split the globe into competing worlds.
“In the past Australian Governments have rejected the notion that they need to choose between the United States and China,” she said.
“But increasingly, both the United States and China are forcing a choice and how this rivalry plays out is going to be of immense importance to Australia, to the Indo-Pacific, and to the globe.
“I don’t believe that Australia should just accept we’re a middle power.”
Singling out tensions over Taiwan as an “ever present issue”, Ms Bishop said Australia had a role to play in calling out the “blindingly obvious”.
“The difference for Australia is that we’re one of the few countries in the world with a massive trade surplus with China and, yes, we have felt the brunt of China’s displeasure when our world views do not align,’ she said.
“I’m not suggesting that we will have significant influence over China although I would like to think they would listen to our view but I think we do have influence in the United States.
“We can point out the blindingly obvious and that is; military conflict over Taiwan would be catastrophic for the globe.”