Transcript: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison discusses global impacts of COVID-19

The following is a transcript of an interview with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan as part of the Aspen Institute's Aspen Security Forum


MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you, Mr Prime Minister. With that, I'll dive right in. You called COVID-19 an n unmitigated calamity. Today we heard from the World Health Organization that their investigators have begun conversations in Wuhan China, about the origins of COVID-19. Australia was the first country to come out and really press the World Health Organization to open such a probe. Do you know when the world will find out its conclusions, will there be Australian investigators included in any part of this team, and what do you plan to do with the information you receive?

MORRISON: Well, I'm pleased that it's underway, and we're not naive to the challenges of these types of reviews and inquiries conducted by such organizations, It will be challenging. We do welcome though the appointment particularly of the former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, we also also welcome Ellen (Johnson) Sirleaf appointment to these roles of (inaudible) of this panel. Helen Clark is well known to us well known to us down under and our partners across the ditch in New Zealand, and she will understand I think very acutely of what the expectations are of this inquiry, and how much is at stake for the WHO in getting to the answers that are necessary—answers that are simply necessary, which was the sole motivation of our call for such inquiry that we understand what happened, so we can ensure it doesn't happen again. We live in a part of the world where these types of viruses can spawn from in any number of different locations. These can happen in many countries around the world. And so it's important we just simply learned the lessons, it is a practical task, and it should not be seen in any political lens whatsoever in any suggestion that is I think is very unhelpful. This is an honest and practical request by sovereign nations, through an important multilateral fora, to find out what happened and how we can prevent it going again. So that's our aspiration that's our ambition. Whether the task, being pursued by those who are now running it can make that aspiration ambition is really a matter for them. Now, Australia will support that in every which way we tend we've made suggestions. And in response to nominations, and we'll follow that through but whether we're formerly part of the process or not is really not our concern, we just want to make sure it's a success. But I do welcome the appointments, of the panel coaches, very respected individuals and I'm sure that our both do a great job and, and we're very pleased that someone for down and was particularly involved at that senior level—Helen has a lot of experience at the multilateral international level as well with  the work that she's done previously with the UN, and so I particularly took a lot of encouragement for that appointment.

MARGARET: Will you be able to trust the results and conclusions of this investigation if Australia's experts aren't part of it?

MORRISON: Well, we are part of the international system that has produced this, and so we have no choice but to. And that's why there's such a heavy burden I think that falls on those who are driving it. They  understand, I am sure, the world's expectations of them and this process. Now, Australia is happy to play a role in that, and we don't consider that our direct participation is a necessary prerequisite for that to be a critical process—and that would be an arrogant thing to say from Australia's point of view, and that's not how we're wired. But we welcome how it started. But whether it achieves its job, well that'll be determined by the job it does.

MARGARET: I want to talk about how you have handled the pandemic within your own borders. Australia had some initial success with some strong actions  at the beginning, with establishing this emergency cabinet for the states to make decisions, focusing on a unified message there. Schools in parts of your country have reopened, we're debating whether or not to do that in this country. Why do you think your country had that initial success?

MORRISON: Well firstly we move very quickly. We called it a pandemic weeks before the WHO. We were acting in early January, we moved at the start of February on shutting down and borders, particularly for Mainland China. As the virus came out Wuhan, came out of China, we had a very large flow of people between China and Australia, and the those border changes were critical in preventing first wave in Australia, and particularly our wonderful Chinese-Australian community, here—we have over a million, and a population of 25 million people of Chinese heritage, and as they came back home after the Chinese New Year, the discipline they showed in self isolation in their communities was outstanding. And so, we were able to contain it. 

And as you rightly say, we pulled together a national cabinet, as I called it, of all of our provinces—states and territories—because under our constitution they're the level of government that make decisions about whether schools open or close ,or whether businesses open or closed all of this, so it was very important that we got a nationally consistent approach to these things, which provided a sense of national calm—calm has been critical. 

Now, several of our states and territories now pretty much COVID-free. There is some cases that occasionally come, we have strong quarantine arrangements for Australians returning. We have and are experiencing right now a very serious community outbreak in our southern state of Victoria, particularly Melbourne, which would be known to all, I'm sure, and many have contacts  in Melbourne today. We actually go into a further stage of lockdown in Melbourne that will run for the next six weeks, which means schools will be shut, and all of those facilities. 

The other part of our response has been the economic response. Our health response has been very strong—we don't have concerns about emergency centers being overwhelmed or anything like that. We built up our ICU capacity, our respirator capacity in the first wave, very significantly, so so we're in a good place there. But what we also did was put massive economic supports over 300 billion balance sheet and direct fiscal interventions to support the economy, income support payments, stimulus payments to welfare beneficiaries ,cash flow supports for businesses, support for childcare centers and the list goes on and on, I don't want to be tedious about it. But they're commensurate and similar to what's been done in Japan, for example, in many other countries. 

That's necessary because I've said from the outset on the first G20 call, and Prime Minister Trudeau was was kind enough to sort of acknowledge this as well, that we can't just see this as a health crisis. Of course it is—it's the worst pandemic we've seen in a hundred years, but it's also the worst economic recession, possibly a lot worse, that the world has seen since the Great Depression, and these two things are happening at once. And these two things are happening at the same time of quite considerable strategic competition. So, you have the overlay of a strategic instability effect particularly in our power world, which indeed makes these, regrettably, interesting times.

MARGARET: Well we're aware of those very same debates here. It's been strategically some different decisions made, and I am curious as to, you know, as a conservative, how you made those decisions to do things like expansion of unemployment benefits and childcare aid, in particular. I mean, it's painful to have to spend like that, but you're saying in the midst of the crisis, you can't cut back on spending. Fundamentally, that's your conviction?

MORRISON: Well conservatives are practical. I am a conservative and I'm practical. You use the tools you have to deal with the problem that you've got. You do it cautiously, you do it carefully. But you are very understanding of the circumstances you face. These are not things we would normally do in a normal manner of things. But these are not normal times. You know, people like Teddy Roosevelt many years ago I think had a very similar approach to the world which he faced, and he was put I suppose you could describe him as a progressive Conservative. But that said, ideology just doesn't matter in times like this, and that's certainly our approach. Australians want their government's to help them through the worst circumstances they've seen in their a lifetime. And what we've also done, particularly to your point, is that we've  time-limited all of this. These are not things that go off into the nether, so what we've done is for a time-limited support to get Australia pushing through because of the failures we're seeing in the private economy. And the private economy is experiencing that not because of any weaknesses or failures on their part, and I think this is important to understand this point: the world has gone into a recession not because of some failure of the economic system. Capitalism hasn't failed. That's not what's happened here. There's a global pandemic that has necessitated the introduction of artificial restrictions on the private economy, and as a result when government does that, well, it also has to turn up to make up the difference to ensure that people can stay in their jobs and take their businesses. And a lot of our inventions has been about maintaining the viability of businesses, because we know what I want on the other side of this is businesses to be viable and to be able to move again to employ people, to invest. And at the same time, Australia is pursuing a series of longer-term economic reforms on the supply side, on skills training, we'll be doing more on our industrial nation's infrastructure, energy, gas, all of these things are very important to our future.

MARGARET: I want to move on to China but before I do, I quickly would like to get your read on where we are with vaccine diplomacy. If we are lucky enough to get a vaccine on the timeline that's projected, you know, if the US or UK get their first, if China gets there first, will Australia have access to that? Do you know who will be first in line?

MORRISON: Well, no one knows who is going to get there first, but the through initiatives like GAVI and COVAX and others, we're very involved ensuring that Australia--we have the ability to produce most of these vaccines ourselves. Not all the various strains, because there are some elements of the vaccine research which are quite unique to a production capacity in only the United States, or places like that. That said, in all the discussions I've had with other leaders, there is, I think, a very strong view that whoever finds it must share it-- 

MARGARET: Make it patent-free, is what that means? Or how would sharing it—

MORRISON: It should be out there as widely and freely available as possible, to ensure that the world can deal with this. That's certainly our view, and we press that view. I think the idea of any country hoarding or seeking to restrict the vaccine, in these circumstances would be, in our view unimaginable. And it's important. I mean all countries— we're investing over 300 million in these initiatives, and we're doing it through other multilateral agencies, as well as here in Australia, and we're working cooperatively. And with like-minded countries I would see no impediment to what I'm suggesting. And we've had outstanding discussions, whether it was France or the United Kingdom or the United States or others, that we would hope any country that found this owes it to the global community to be as open and transparent. I mean, Australia was the first country to be able to reproduce the genetic code for COVID, and we shared it with the world. We didn't try to sell it, we didn't try to capitalize on it, or leverage it. We shared it. So we've led by example there.

MARGARET: And you've had this conversation with President Trump, have you received reassurances that that is how the US will approach it, as well? 

MORRISON: We've had this discussion with all leaders, and I've said it publicly on many occasions now: I think the world would look very dimly on any country that found a vaccine that did not take a global response out of out of compassion, and out of the global interest.

MARGARET: When was the last time you spoke with Xi Jinping?

MORRISON: It was at the G20 last year. 

MARGARET: Last year. You noted in your remarks just there, and I've noted just in preparing for this conversation how much Australia has been investing in trying to refurbish its military to counterbalance China's influence in that region. What is driving that, do you think that Australia needs to be able to assert itself more independently from the United States which remains a key ally? Why do you feel you need to do this right now?

MORRISON: Well, it's not just now. Since we came to government, back in 2013, we've been building up again  our defense spending to 2% of GDP, that was one of our core commitments when we came to government and it's taken us a while to get there, and we're now there this year. And as I say that's now a floor, not a target. So we have been building that capability for some time now. We have one of the largest capability investment plan—well, the largest since the Second World War—and we've been following through with that, whether it's our submarine fleet, our joint strike fighter capability, or many other investments, our land-based capability with our carriers, and so on. So this is a very big investment. 

The strategic update on our defense plan builds the capacity to keep our potential adversaries, further away for longer. And this was an acknowledgment, I think, of the broader threats that we have to deal with going forward, and even in a shorter time-frame, possibly than we had considered. These are all precautionary, these are all preventive steps. These are all steps that are taken with like-minded partners. I mean, we've been elevating the level of our Quad—the relationship with Japan and India, United States and Australia, for some time now. We work closely with ASEAN and the other Indo-Pacific nations. All of this is about achieving the strategic, I think, counterbalance within the region. What we want is peace and stability in the region. What we want is trade with China and all countries in our region, to continue to grow and develop, and for that to be done in a stable, peaceful environment. That's what we want. And I would hope that all countries in our region would want that, that their own economic development doesn't lead to an opportunity to water the strategic balance of the region.

MARGARET:  Well, Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia, has an article this week talking about and predicting, he says, for the first time, actual armed conflict between the US and China now appears possible for the first time since the end of the Korean War. We are confronting the prospect of what he called not a new Cold War, but a hot one as well. Is this hyperbolic, or do you view, what's happening in your backyard as what he's laying out?

MORRISION: Well, our defense update expresses it differently, and certainly not as dramatically as Kevin has. But in our own defense update ,we've acknowledged that what was previously inconceivable and not considered even possible or likely in terms of those types of outcomes is not considered in those contexts anymore. So, there has been a change, there has obviously been a change, and I don't think that's terribly remarkable. And as a result, I think, you know, the alignment, the activities of countries that share similar outlooks—and sometimes not even the same outlook. I mean, I mentioned in my remarks the tremendous relationship we had with Vietnam. Now, you couldn't you couldn't have two systems more different to Australia's and  Vietnam's. But that said, we totally share views on things like the South China Sea, on trading relationships within our region, and many other important issues, and I look forward to the time when I go and join Prime Minister Phuc again. It was a very warm visit and a real high point of our relationship with Vietnam. 

So it's not just those with whom you'd say you have like-minded political outlooks in terms of how we structure our societies. It's also where we share outlooks about the future of our region. And in the Indo-Pacific one thing I know for sure, regardless of what someone's political system is, they all want to be quite rightly independent, sovereign nations, free of any coercion or interference and with the opportunity to develop and enhance their economies and their societies for the benefit of their people. And the United States' presence in the region has always been a very positive force us to achieve that. I would like to see, as China has grown as an economy, which we welcome very much, and I suppose that's a bit of a different point of view from some of those views expressed the United States. We welcome China's growth. It's been great for Australia, it's been great for our region. We just don't want to see that growth translate into any broader instability in the region, because we believe that will undermine prosperity in the region.

MARGARET: What do you mean, 'instability'? What are you thinking of when you use that phrase? 

MORRISON: Well, it's very important I think to look at this at two levels. There's strategic competition between the United States and China. And the great difficulty I think the rest of the nations face in the region is that every action taken by one of us is only seen through the lens of that strategic competition between those two very large states. And the truth is, we're all, we're all countries with our own agency. We're all our countries with our own interests and our own participation. And we're not shy, particularly when we get around the East Asia Summit table, or the ASEAN plus dialogues that take place, that it's an important opportunity, I think, for the United States and China to hear the views of the many other countries that live in this region. And China and the US both have a very strong role to play, which I think the United States has done benevolently now for a very long time. And I know that presence of the United States is very welcome , because it provides that stability. We just simply want to see that these issues are managed in such a way, and ambitions are managed in such a way so it's not to undermine regional stability. And that's our national interests, it's the interests of so many countries in our region, and that's why I think we have such an excellent relationship with so many countries in our region.

MARGARET: I take your point, particularly the Americans always think it's about us. 

MORRISON: (Laughs) No! No!

MARGARET: (Laughs) But, if you will indulge me: we're self-aware on that point. But, we are right now in a very heated political climate and race in the United States, and I'm not going to ask you to talk about US politics. But I do want to frame it because right now both candidates are trying to argue that they will be tougher on China than the other one. Joe Biden is saying that, he's called Xi Jinping a ;thug', and Donald Trump is campaigning and certainly has upped his rhetoric, along with his administration, in terms of the threat posed by China. So putting the race aside, just look at the few months ahead of you, and how concerned are you that in this environment it's not going to be possible to dial back tension, and that there is a collision course that you were in the middle of? 

MORRISON: Well firstly, there's a political overlay that you've identified to a lot of the commentary that's running at present. And I believe that other nations, particularly in our region, are quite capable of understanding that, and the context in which many comments are being made. That there is an understanding of the that dimension of the, if you like, the heat of some of these comments. That's not to say there aren't very real and genuine intent  and meaning behind those statements but, you know, language is dialed up and down. And I have no doubt that, whether it's here in Australia, or you know in Indonesia or China or Japan or anywhere else, we get this politics and we get the context in which comments are being made—

MARGARET:  But directionally, it describes growing tension. Strategically,  the approach may be different.

MORRISON: The point I'd make about the United States and Australia is we have a different lens on the issue, because our economic relationships with China are different. I mean, as the President has pointed out on many occasions, I mean, the US has a deficit with China. We have a surplus, and that changes the nature of the relationship, certainly the economic side of it. Now, that doesn't mean that makes us hostage to that economic relationship at all. The reason we have such a good trading relationship with China, despite all the talk of what is perceived to be tensions, our level of trade with China has never been stronger. Why? Because we make and sell things that they need, and they make and sell things that we need, and it's a mutually beneficial economic relationship. And it does go broader into a strategic partnership, but there is a reason, a mutual benefit, it is a two way mutually-beneficial relationship for Australia and China, and we want to see that preserved. But  it can't be preserved in any imbalanced way, it is preserved by each partner respecting each other's interests and outlooks, and I believe that can be achieved. 

The United States has a different lens on this problem, because of the nature of the relationship with China, and what is what this nature of the trading relationship is, and there are many issues that are raised around intellectual property and around joint ventures—we face that as well. The scale is just different, because of the nature of what makes up our relationship was predominantly resources and commodities in volume in both dollars and units. So, you know, to assume Australia in the United States has an identical outlook on China would be false, because the circumstances are completely different the geography is completely different. And, while we are highly integrated and aligned on our overall macro view, how we pursue that and express it and do it will be always uniquely Australian, as it should be—we're an independent, sovereign nation. And I think one of the areas that is made about analyzing Australia's position, and one of the criticisms that is made of Australia is that somehow that it's tied inextricably to the precise rhetoric of what is done in the United States. Now that is just simply not true, and to look at it in that way would be to misunderstand Australia, and to miss out on the opportunity of working with Australia in a more constructive way.

MARGARET: What did you mean when you said recently in a speech: "We need to prepare for a post-COVID world that is poor, that is more dangerous, and that is more disorderly". And you talked about "the region, facing an existential threat unseen since the 1930s and 1940s"?

MORRISON: I meant exactly what I said—

MARGARET: —What is that 'threat'? 

MORRISON: Well, what we're seeing is three highly destabilizing elements in the world today and, from Australia's point of view, they coalesce all here in the region in which we live. We have the biggest economic recession if not depression since the Great Depression. We have the largest health crisis, the world has seen in 100 years. We have a strategic instability in the Indo-Pacific, principally that goes back to the strategic competition between the United States and China that has been expressed through the region. There are obviously strong ambitions that follow the economic rise of China that is putting a lot of pressure on the system. Now, while the precise circumstances aren't the same in what we saw in the 1930s, the combination of forces are very similar. Now, I am more optimistic, way more optimistic that the outcome of the 1930s doesn't need to be the same today. And that's why in the remarks I've made today is about ensuring that doesn't occur by the like-minded alignment, by the by the actions of independent, sovereign states working together to avoid those outcomes, and to create the necessary balances that are needed to take the system working, to tend the garden as I've been saying. I mean, multilateral fora we support, Australia has been part of their inception. Australia has supported the continued funding of the WHO. Why? Because I know the work it does in our region, in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia and places like that. Sure we've got our criticisms about what happens further up the tree. But on the ground iIt makes a big difference, and we want to support that. We acknowledge its imperfections, and we think they should be fixed, and we'll call it out as we see it. But we remain constructively engaged that multilateral fora can't get ahead of themselves and think they can run around as institutions and bureaucracies telling the world how they should run their own countries. Sovereign states are still sovereign, and there needs to be, I think, a greater appreciation of that, and I think that's what's been behind some of the frustration with global institutions. That they feel they have a mandate that extends beyond what is given to them by sovereign states, and certainly as, you know, from my perspective on these things that have been a view I've consistently put for for many, many years.

MARGARET: I have  few more questions, but I just want to remind those listening and watching that they should get their questions ready for the Prime Minister shortly, and get in that queue. You know, the rest of the world watches, particularly what Australia decides to do on the technology front with an eye towards China. Last month you said your government was looking very closely at TicTok, the social media company, and that you directed your intelligence agencies to look at it. Just this past week we had Microsoft announced that it was looking to buy not just the US company but the Australian entity, as well. Is that an acceptable solution to the risk that you saw posed by Tick tock?

MORRISON: Well we have had a look, a good look at this, and there's no evidence for us to suggest having done that, that there is any misuse of any people's data that had occurred, at least from an Australian perspective, in relation to these applications. You know there's plenty of things that are on TickTok which are embarrassing enough in public, so, but it's that sort of a social media device. That said, I think our responses that Australians have to be very aware, and it's not just with TickTok and things like that. The same is true with you know Facebook and all these other social media platforms, enormous amounts of information have been provided that goes back into systems. Now, it is true that with applications like TickTok that data, that information can be accessed at a sovereign-state level. That is not the case in relation to the applications that are coming into the United States, but I think people should understand, and there's a sort of a 'buyer beware' process, there's nothing at this point that would suggest to us that security interests have been compromised, or Australian citizens have been compromised, because of what's happening with those applications. But people should know that the line connects right back to China, and they should exercise their own judgment about whether they should participate in those things or not. There is a greater level of transparency, I would argue, about how applications like WhatsApp and things like that, you know, if you get one of those that the data is used and handled and managed, that's pretty upfront relatively speaking compared to tiktok and things like that. So, I think, letting the sunshine in on all of these things is the best way to handle them, and for consumers to be aware of what they're using.

MARGARET So, to be clear, your intelligence agencies concluded that there was no security threat?

MORRISON: There's no reason for us to restrict those applications at this point. We'll obviously keep watching them. And there's no evidence to suggest to us today, that that is a step that is necessary. But I would stress strongly to any Australians listening to this, and those who are reporting on it, that people need to understand where the extension cord goes back to.

MARGARET: Well Australia was the first of the Five Eyes members to ban Huawei and ZTE, and the rest of the Western allies looked closely at that decision. How do you balance that, the decision to deal with all the economic realities that you laid out in terms of having to have good relations with China on that front, with your concerns about the potential risk and potential espionage?

MORRISON: Well 5G is different from 4G. I mean, the internet of things opens up a broad array of applications and uses for that technology well beyond what has gone previously. And so the integrity and security of Australia's sovereign systems, I think, has to be protected above all else. So this was a decision not directed at necessarily any one supplier that just ensured that as Australia builds its 5G network, which is happening as we speak, it can be done in the sovereign wide, and that is what is occurring using the technology that we believe can best support those objectives. So, that's what we've done, we've done it in our national interest. As I've said, we haven't said that others should do this, others have made the same decision. We made the decision for Australia's interest and we follow through on that. But let me stress this, and because the point often comes up with foreign investment: Australia has the most liberal foreign investment rules of any country in the Indo-Pacific. I mean, the United States is our biggest investment partner, and countries like the United Kingdom also. I mean, China, while it has been the fastest growing element of foreign investment in Australia, it doesn't come close to the level of foreign investment that has been in a direct sense out of the United States In the United Kingdom. But you can invest in Australia in things that Australians can't invest in many countries in our region, including China. Now, these aren't direct reciprocal arrangements we have in place, we set our foreign investment rules, our technology rules, our foreign interference rules, our trade rules—we set all of these in Australia's interests, and that's what determines our judgment and nothing else. But we do have the most pro-trade, pro-investment set of policies, I'd argue, of any country in the Indo-Pacific.

MARGARET: Did you do a review of Chinese diplomats, or do you think one needs to be done, given the decision in this country to shut down the Houston consulate that the Trump administration carried out just a few weeks ago?—They specifically, in briefings, pointed out that the Consul General in that station had previously been posted in Australia, and talked about Houston as a hub for espionage. How should we understand that and was there something you shared?

MORRISON: Well, you wouldn't expect me to go into any of these details, I'd understand why you ask, but obviously Australia doesn't go into how we manage our security affairs in a public forum, and never do. We obviously have the intelligence relationships that we have through the Five Eyes partnerships, which are well known. But I can assure you that Australia is very, very conscientious about protecting Australia from foreign interference, and so that our citizens can live freely and without coercion. We are a big multicultural society in Australia. I would argue that we are the most successful immigration country in the world, and clearly so. That means we bring people from all over the world from many different languages and cultures, and it works here in Australia. We are very successful multicultural society, and we want to protect all of our students. So—

MARGARET: Right, but this was specifically about people who were credited as diplomats—

MORRISON: I understand that, but  I'm not going to be drawn on on how we undertake our security operations in Australia and how we work with partners. I don't—as I say, I'm sure you'd want to know, and it's a reasonable question to ask, but it's also appropriate for me to not give a detailed response.

AUDIENCE Q&A

MARGARET: Well we do you have questions from our viewers who will be unmuted in the queue as they are called on. The first I see here is from Sidhartha Sarma.

VIEWER Q: Good morning I have two questions,  regarding two points you have mentioned about the threat of disinformation to free societies. So in recent times we have observed that strategy corruption has been used by certain states and (inaudible) in emerging countries. As a member of the Five Eyes Alliance, and as a stabilizing force in the Indo-Pacific, how will Australia act in preventing strategy corruption and resolving free societies as developing low and middle income countries? And how does Australia plan to engage with India going forward—apart from its  (inaudible) in the Commonwealth, do we see containment, constraint and confronting in respect to China?

MORRISON: Thanks for those questions. There's a lot in all of that. Let me start by saying that our relationship with India has gone, Sidhartha, to a whole new level. And that is principally been, I must put down to the great friendship we've had with Narendra Modi, who has been an extraordinary participant on the global stage, and a great partner in the sort of things that I've been talking about today, and the alignment, the appreciation, the understanding of the world in which we live, and what like-minded countries need to do to ensure stability and peace and prosperity in the future. That's why we've upped the relationship with India at a strategic level, and we want to see the economic dimension of that relationship grow, the fence relationship, the intelligence relationship, all of this is on an upward curve. And it's done in a shared appreciation of the very strategic issues that I've outlined today. And the Quad in particular is an important part of that relationship and that is elevating, but it is doing it at its own pace and respectful of the pace of all partners how they want to pursue it, particularly India, and so that's all been a very positive thing. So, that is the principal means by which we would be working together to create this balance in the region, and I say India is absolutely central to that process. India's own development and growth is something we are invested in, supportive evolve and we want to it see flourish. But there are many challenges in the Indian economy, Narendra knows that better than anyone. And his pro-growth policies, his pro-investment policies have been very aggressive and right, and going back to his time as a governor in Gujarat, I mean, they're the sorts of things that we welcome and would like to see continue. So all I can really say is India is a huge part, a massive part of this strategic balance that's necessary to ensure not only India's success and growth in the future, but all of our success. And I'd say, China's as well. Getting the right balance is good for China. I think this is an important point, Margaret: a strategic balance in the region is good for China, it's good for people living in China, it's good for their jobs, it's good for their investment, it's good for their education. It's good for their outlook. We want that, and we believe that is achieved through a balance in the region, which enables everybody to share and grow.

MARGARET: Next question is from Edward Luce…

VIEWER Q: Thank you. Margaret, and thank you Prime Minister for sharing your thoughts today. I'm with the Financial Times. I wanted to ask you just to deepen a little bit your comments you just made about China—it being in China's interest to have balance in the region. Do you share the pretty much consensus view in Washington nowadays that we are in a new cold war with China, and if so, how would you like the next American administration, whether it's a Trump administration or a Biden administration, to handle this cold war?

MORRISON: I don't know if I'd use that term, and the mention was made of Kevin Rudd earlier and he's made some comments on this and made, I thought, some very good observations about the differences between what we knew of the previous Cold War and today. I think it was Kevin who did that. I wouldn't use the same terminology today, I think the circumstances are quite different.

But, to go to your point about the United States, and again this is no commentary on the political situation in the United States one way or another, that would be highly inappropriate. But, I'd say this: our relationship and alliance with the United States is independent of frankly whoever sits in my chair, or ever sits in the President's chair. We made this point when we were together last year. It's up to all leaders on both sides of the relationship to make sure it remains as strong as possible and that has always been the case. I think it's, you know, we've been celebrating a century of matchup between the United States and Australia most recently. And the United States is focus on our region, and its understanding is of the priority of that focus is very important to us. And I think it's important to all countries in the United States. And so, that is I think the key issue is the defense position, the United States is able to fulfill within the world, and it's a deployment and its interest in the diversity is obviously a very important issue, if that contributes to the stability that is here in our region. So, you know, without commentating on the specific views of the republicans or the democrats going into this election, that commitment to that relationship, that commitment to the capability that is necessary from the United States into the future to support global stability, is highly important. And obviously, we'd be keen to see that that mark be met.

MARGARET: We have time for an additional question from Nick Burns, who will be hopping on shortly as well to wrap us up, but I want to piggyback on that and ask you, Mr. Prime Minister, as I hand it off to Nick, why you haven't spoken to Xi Jinping since last year? 

MORRISON: There hasn't been an opportunity to do so, but the the welcome and the invitation for such a discussion is always there from our perspective. I spoke to Premier Li Keqiang, we had our last leaders dialogue under the comprehensive strategic partnership that was late last year in Bangkok alongside the East Asia Summit, and we welcome that. And I've been having those discussions with him annually. So, there's been a continuation of the comprehensive strategic partnership leadership dialogues over this period. So that's important. But, look, I don't get hung up on those things to be honest, Margaret, um, the phone's there, it works. And I mean, we've been engaging with countries quite considerably, we have the engagements through our embassies. Those sorts of things are of less concern to me. What matters is that the trading relationship, the economic relationship is able to be pursued, that it is occurring, it has its frustrations from time to time. But I'm simply just trying to say is that global stability particularly regional stability in the Pacific is in everyone's interest, that's Australia's objective. How we express that will differ from time to time with the way the United States does, but I believe that's the absolute objective of the United States, as well. The strategic competition issues between the United States and China are different to our relationship with China, and that would explain many and most of the differences that you might see. But we welcome, greatly, the involvement of the United States' in the region for that end. 

MARGARET: Nick.

AMB. NICK BURNS: Prime Minister, thank you very much for the interview. Margaret, thank you for being such a great moderator. Prime Minister, there's a lot of faith here in Australia, I think in both of our political parties as we face a real threat from China. I think that's how most people here perceive it. And we're bullish on the alliance with you and your government, as well as with the Quad—with the Indians and Japanese, and I just wondered if you had any final thoughts on how we should be handling this big push for power–as we look at the Indian border, the Uighurs, Hong Kong, the South China Sea—by the Chinese military.

MORRISON: (Muted)

MARGARET: I think that line may be muted at the moment. Mr. Prime Minster can you unmute your line? 

MORRISON: Sorry. Thank you, Nick. What I was saying is, that is the question about all of these things that I was saying. That I'm an optimist, Australians are indefatigable optimists about these things. It's our worldview,  it's how we are always able to push through, whether it's COVID, floods fires, depressions. That's just how we roll. And I think we have to take an optimistic attitude, but not an unrealistic, naive attitude. We are not naive about these tensions, these pressures, these issues. But we've got to set out, I think, and wed ourselves to the objective here. And that is not the suppression or the containment of any one state. It's about the productive and strategic balance that can be achieved. And that's why we're in the Quad. That's why we're engaged in ASEAN, That's why I went to Vietnam. That's why we're doing all of these things. There is an objective here which we genuinely believe benefits all interests here. But it does mean, and I made this comment at (inaudible), that there is a recognition that the balance has shifted based on the just the practical issue of China's economic growth, which by the way we all champion, and we all encouraged, and I don't regret, not for a second. I think it's great. But I think there were different perspectives on what that would lead to, both from the rest of the world and from China themselves. And so, I think it's time to sort of take stock of that and say, well, how can that all be accommodated appropriately and ensure that we have a strategic balance that does not impinge on the independence and sovereignty of nations in this part of the world. And that's why things like the South China Sea, trading relationships, foreign interference, what's happening terribly in Hong Kong, all of this is very important, because it goes to how this new strategic balance will play out. And our very strong view is it's in everybody's interest. It's everybody's interest that that strategic balance is achieved—not to have one one group up against another, or vice versa, but to ensure that the citizens of all of our countries can have a more peaceful future.

BURNS: Prime minister, thank you for being with us. All best to you and your government the Australian people at a difficult time.

MORRISON:  Thanks so much. Thank you, and all the best to our friends in the US. Thank you Margaret.