Liz Truss, UK foreign secretary, has called for liberal governments to “face down global aggressors” in a highly charged speech aimed at Russia and China.
Truss said Moscow and Beijing have been “emboldened in a way we haven’t seen since the cold war” in an address at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think-tank, following talks with her Australian counterpart.
Truss and Ben Wallace, UK defence secretary, are in Sydney for discussions with the Australian government over closer security ties following the signing of the Aukus deal last year. The pact between London, Canberra and Washington was designed to enable Australia to obtain nuclear-powered submarines as part of an effort to counteract an increasingly assertive China.
The foreign secretary and Marise Payne, Australia’s foreign minister, signed an agreement on Thursday to co-operate on combating cyber security threats and boosting infrastructure investment to bolster stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Truss used her speech to demand that Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, step back from a possible conflict with Ukraine “before he makes a massive strategic mistake”.
Moscow has amassed more than 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine and western allies including the US have warned that Putin may be planning an invasion. Russia has denied any such intentions.
“Invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and loss of life, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war and conflict in Chechnya,” Truss said.
She also argued for stronger alliances between countries including Australia, the UK, Japan, India, Indonesia and Israel to curtail the growing power of “global aggressors”.
“They seek to export dictatorship as a service around the world. That is why regimes like Belarus, North Korea and Myanmar find their closest allies in Moscow and Beijing,” she said.
At a press conference alongside Wallace and Payne, as well as Peter Dutton, Australia’s defence minister, Truss sought to further justify the need for alliances such as Aukus.
She cited China’s “economic coercion” against Australia and Lithuania, Russia’s military “aggression” and Iran’s attempts to secure a nuclear weapon as challenges that required trade routes to be protected and security in the region to be strengthened.
Payne backed the comments, saying “unbridled aggression” by authoritarian governments should not be tolerated by liberal democracies.
Wallace added that “nothing is off the table” when asked if Britain could establish a military base in Australia.
The UK foreign secretary’s strongly worded speech, which quoted Margaret Thatcher, was delivered as Boris Johnson battles to remain prime minister in the face of domestic controversies and a revolt among Conservative party MPs.
Truss has been tipped as a potential contender to replace Johnson should he stand down following an inquiry into the so-called Partygate scandal, which involved a series of Downing Street events that allegedly broke coronavirus restrictions.
She reiterated in Sydney that she supported Johnson “100 per cent” and wanted him to remain in the job.