Speech: Championing Values In The Indo-Pacific




13 July 2022

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s an honour to be here once more in London as the guest of the Henry Jackson Society—I’d like to acknowledge Dr Alan Mendoza, Executive Director, for his invitation and hospitality.

This is my first international trip since the pandemic—a new baby, a highly restrictive quarantine regime and an election this year has made travel difficult—so I’m delighted to be back. 

Sam Armstrong, your Communications Director but—more to the point—my good friend, has been superb in bringing this visit together.

I’d like to also acknowledge the Taiwanese Representative, Mr Kelly Wu-Chiao Hsieh. I’ve become good friends with your colleague in Canberra, Mr Elliott Charng, who is an outstanding advocate for your people and your cause.

It is good to be back. I was last here in July 2019 for a conference on Chinese Communist Party foreign interference and espionage—a subject that was then only whispered about on the margins of national security debate.

Three years on, our important conversation today is focused on securing the peace in the Taiwan Strait.

That’s a big leap. Look how much the world has changed.

The simple reality is that authoritarian powers are on the move. They are always on the move. And looking to reshape the world order and bend it to their liking.

The no-limits partnership agreed by Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin—on the eve of Russia’s barbaric assault on Ukraine—formalised an ambition to reshape the contours of the free world.

This should come as no surprise to us. The governments of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation have flown their revisionist ambitions like Regimental Colours:

  • There have been Russian state-sanctioned assassinations on UK soil in 2006 and 2018.
  • The PRC—without legal foundation—has transformed reefs and atolls in the South China Sea into military bases bristling with missiles and fighter jets.
  • There are the routine incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) by Chinese fighter aircraft.
  • Hong Kong has been slowly crushed and remoulded in the image of the CCP. The Hong Kong Police Force now perform PLA-style foot drills—shorthand for the shift in ideology and the impatient rejection of British influence upon their institutions.
  • Putin’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine—and all the prior aggression over the last two decades: from Georgia to the Crimea to the cruel felling of MH-17.

The writing has been on the wall. We’ve just been unwilling to see it.


Perhaps the economic costs of confronting these strategic realities have been too painful, as the war in Ukraine has demonstrated. Soaring gas prices. Food shortages. Big pressures on the cost of living.

These are tough domestic challenges for democratic governments and free economies. Back home in Australia, we’ve prospered from our openness to the global economy. But, in times such as this—and even in better days—there are pressure points that make us vulnerable to strategic coercion.

We’ve lived this firsthand, as the PRC targeted our beef, wheat and wine sectors for economic punishment—locking our producers out of their markets to make an example of Australia’s refusal to play by the dictates of the PRC.

I think Sir Halford Mackinder—the intellectual father of geopolitics—was right about democracies when he argued that we don’t like to think in terms of strategy and power politics, and that we only do so under compulsion.

Even warnings of relentless political warfare, subversive campaigns and cyber-attacks from our intelligence chiefs tend to sink in the news cycle after 24 hours.

So let me ask: have we had enough of this ruthless and coercive compulsion? Will we now see clearly the challenges set before us, and face them together?

I hope so.

The great Euro-Atlantic partnership, NATO, in their 2022 Strategic Concept published a fortnight ago, has grasped the confronting new reality.

NATO now acknowledges the threat posed to their values and interests by the deepening strategic partnership between the PRC and the Russian Federation.

This is vital.

For there is much at stake for free peoples, as our Ukrainian friends will testify—and we cannot ignore them or the lessons they have already shared with us.

We all want peace, at home, in our own countries.

We all want peace, with our neighbours, in our respective regions.

And we all want peace—across the globe—because of the opportunities it presents.

As President John F. Kennedy said, ‘we want the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children’.

He argued for a peace ‘where the weak are safe and the strong are just.’

Right now, that peace has been shattered in Ukraine. It is at risk in Europe.

The weak are no longer safe.

The authoritarian powers, while formidable, are not just.

And the risk they pose together stretches all the way to the Indo-Pacific.

To the critical geography before us today: the Taiwan Strait.

There, the peace is very fragile indeed.

Let me ask you: Is the kind of peace JFK imagined possible for the Indo-Pacific? And how do we secure it?

He gave his speech at the American University almost sixty years ago, with the Cold War into its second decade.

But his vision of peace speaks to us today. With the same imperative.

Nuclear weapons have not disappeared. Human nature has not changed. And the consequences of war are no less devastating.

Political warfare abounds, with misinformation and lies plaguing the hearts and minds of our people.

Yet the question remains: How do we secure that peace?

I believe our strategy needs three things.

We must stand, we must stand strong and we must stand together.

First, we must stand for our democratic principles and values: for sovereignty, human dignity, the rule of law and fairness.

We must speak up for nations and individuals under the boot of authoritarianism, just as many of our nations have stood with Ukraine.

Our strategy for peace must have moral clarity and be grounded in truth. That moral clarity must have integrity—and hold together in both easy and hard times.

The idea that every human being has inherent dignity is a powerful, universal truth. It has been the driving force behind major world events.

It was the moral imperative that tore down the Berlin Wall. It was the moral energy that steeled the hearts of the students at Tiananmen Square.

Who can forget the courage of that lone Chinese figure—small and unarmed—standing against the column of T-59 tanks?

They knew what they stood for, and their example was powerful.

And in this emerging contest with authoritarian powers, our values and the example we set are powerful.

When given a choice, people migrate towards democracy and away from autocracy.

For as Shakespeare wrote: ‘when lenity and cruelty play for a

kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.’

Our values must act as a beacon—for ourselves, for our partners and those yet undecided in this dangerous new world.

We are not perfect—either as individuals or nations. We will make mistakes. And we will fail to live up to our rhetoric as free peoples.

But we can only reform ourselves if we hold ourselves accountable to the standard of our own democratic values.

We prize truth, but there will be times when truth is confronting.

In Australia, we have been through a tough public accounting for our time in Afghanistan—specifically, the alleged unlawful actions of a small number of our special forces over the course of the war.

The Brereton Inquiry, as it is known, has been very tough. But it has been necessary.

For if we cannot hold ourselves to account for unlawful battlefield conduct in Afghanistan, by what standard do we condemn Russian acts of barbarity in Ukraine?

If we wish to secure peace in the Indo-Pacific, we must stand for our democratic values.

To do that, this is my second point now, we must stand strong.

We cannot pretend that peace is secured by words alone. We must be prepared to defend it with hard power.

And we must acknowledge that free peoples must maintain that minimum of hard power without which they cannot not survive as free peoples.

Russia’s unlawful attack on Ukraine should focus our minds on this very point.

What sort of hard power do I mean?

Military power. Guns. Ammunition. Troops. Fighter aircraft. Warships.

Lethal force and the preparedness to deploy it. All necessary means.

Free peoples must be prepared to fight and defend themselves against an aggressor, as the Ukrainian people have boldly shown. They must also be prepared to defend others under attack and others that are threatened.

We want a world where the weak are safe, but we also recognise that weakness is provocative, and so we must be strong.

Hard power gives us the strength to prevail against the unjust. It deters aggressors. And it gives us a platform to champion our values and interests.

Yet, we need more of it. 

Analyses suggest that the entire annual artillery production of the US would—at best—only last for ten days to two weeks of combat in Ukraine. 

The UK Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace has said that such shortages of ammunition mean that "the West would struggle if it had to engage in a long-term offensive matter”.

We welcome the commitment by European partners like Germany to lift their defence spending, as we have done in Australia.

A moment of this magnitude, though, calls for boldness and bravery. The decisions we took to join the AUKUS pact were not easy and were heavily criticised.

But that decision recognised the urgent step change Australia required in capability. It meant getting on track to have nuclear-powered attack submarines by 2030 so that we could rise to the growing authoritarian ambitions in our region.  

If—as free peoples—we are to meet this next challenge together, many more nations will need to match the courage and vision that AUKUS embodies.

After all, strength is only built by taking tough choices.

But we must also be astute.

Strength must be protected, harnessed and deployed within the parameters of sound strategy—accounting for all the pieces on the board.

And this brings me to my third and final point: we must stand together.

More than ever, free peoples must deepen their association with one another—through formal and informal means.

As it was written long ago, ‘though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken’.

Strategy is more than just prevailing in a clash with another power.

Strategy involves building shared interests, coalitions and partnerships—and working together to build the peace that we seek in the Indo-Pacific.

As Sir Lawrence Freedman puts it, ‘…strategy is the central political art. It is about getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest. It is the art of creating power.’

Individually, we might be able to resist authoritarian coercion—for a time. But no nation can go it alone.

We know this from down under. The PRC has used economic coercion to compel our political leadership to lift the ban on Huawei and ZTE participation in our 5G network.

The Chinese Ambassador in November 2020 even handed 14 points of grievance to an Australian journalist: a laundry list of strategic demands from the PRC.

We have not conceded one point, as it is not in our sovereign interest to do so.

But we have only been able to stand firm because of the strength of our relationships across the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

Our values, shared with our friends, have been a force multiplier. And our best strategy is to stand together.

Growing trade relationships with South Korea, Indonesia and India have complemented our strategic partnerships with Japan, India and the United States through the Quad.

This has been great progress, but the work is unfinished.

It is never finished, as the tragic loss of Shinzo Abe reminds us. We must carry on the work he began, as we take up the torch of his leadership which burns brightly still.

The pandemic has been immensely damaging—economically and strategically.

It has atrophied once muscular sectors of the global economy. The airline industry is a case in point.

The staff shortages, delayed and cancelled flights and shuttered airport shops remind us that we can take nothing as certain.

Diplomacy is no different. The pandemic affected every aspect of life.

The COVID-19 pandemic disincentivised travel and weakened the networks that bind us to others in the region.

The point is that none of us can take for granted our relationships in the Indo-Pacific region. They must be stewarded. We must invest in them.

Just as the UK government did last year in deploying the British carrier strike group to the South China Sea.

Those deployments and port visits send a powerful signal—and we hope for more of them, as we strengthen AUKUS and enliven the opportunities it presents for the movement of ideas, technology, capital and people between the US, UK and Australia. 

There will be some who remain sceptical about building a sustainable peace in the Indo-Pacific region, given its vast diversity and competing interests. We must not be naïve.

But I believe we can work together, imperfectly, to build the practicable peace that JFK imagined. We can build and sustain that peace.

I take encouragement from our experience in Australia. We are one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Our experience is vibrant, fresh and celebrated.

We see it across our society, and yes, you see it in our sport. And my own experience of our domestic unity fills me with hope that it is possible in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

Since 2015, I have represented the Western Australian electoral district of Canning, but I grew up in the inner west of Sydney—in the seat held by current Labor Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese.

And I share something in common with Angela Merkel, Gordon Brown and Theresa May: I grew up as a child of the manse.

My father is a Presbyterian Minister. My childhood church, an elegant Victorian building, was erected in the 1880s with the financial backing of a Scottish migrant.

Inside the church itself—across the walls—are sad and solemn reminders of those who perished in the First World War. You’ll even find the Latin phrase: ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori’—‘It is sweet and fitting to die for the homeland’—a reminder of how British ideals influenced the thinking of countless brave Australians.

But growing up, my experience broke with history. The rightful abandonment of the White Australia policy and the migration of many new Australians had changed the character of the church so that it would be unrecognisable by the founders—at least on the surface.

There was an English service, a Korean service, a Chinese Mandarin service and, for a time, a Samoan service.

Different languages, different cultures, different foods, different people all sharing a building bequeathed by a Scot.

All united around a common commitment to shared ideas, unifying truths and lasting faith.

To me it was a beautiful picture of unity in diversity. And it fills me with hope for the nations.

It’s a picture that I return to when sceptics say that an enduring peace—where the strong are just and the weak are safe—is both impracticable and impossible.

Rather, it inspires me to champion our values in the Indo-Pacific region—through principled persuasion, through indispensable hard power and through partnerships great and small.

That’s how we build a peace where the strong are just and the weak are safe.

Thank you.