Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has advised his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, to engage more calmly and directly with China, amid a historically icy period in Canberra-Beijing relations. Morrison made a brief stop in Singapore last night for a meeting with Lee, en route to the G-7-plus meetings in Cornwall, where he will hold his first in-person meeting with US President Joe Biden.

In addition to discussing the potential for a travel bubble between the two countries, and creating a mutually recognizable digital COVID-19 vaccine certificate, Lee said he and Morrison discussed a number of issues related to China.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Lee describes china as “one of the biggest political questions for all the great powers in the world” and said he told Morrison that Australia should focus on areas of mutual interest rather than ideological differences.

“You don’t have to become like them, neither can you expect them to become like you,” he said. “You have to be able to work on this basis, that it is a big world in which there are different countries, and to work with others who do not completely share the same ideas but with whom you have many problems, where your interests align. “

“There will be tough times… and you have to face them,” Lee added. “But treat them as problems in a partnership that you want to continue and not as problems, which are added to an adversary that you are trying to remove.”

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Australia’s relations with China have reached a decades-long low in the past year, as Beijing angered by Morrison’s decision public call in April 2020 for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19, punished Canberra by imposing billions of dollars in tariffs on a range of Australian goods and putting its diplomatic corps of “wolf warriors” on the Australian government. The stalemate resulted in a list of 14 grievances released by Beijing, which sought to blame Australia for the deterioration in bilateral relations.

Lee has long presented himself as a peddler of hard truths in the United States and China, and his advice to Morrison echoed previous statements he had made about the burgeoning Sino-American rivalry. In his opening speech At the 2019 Shangri-La defense conclave, the Singaporean leader urged the two superpowers to find common ground. While hailing China’s growth as “a tremendous boon, both to itself and to the world,” he said Chinese leaders should seek to resolve maritime disputes “through diplomacy and compromise rather than by force or the threat of force ”.

Lee also said that US policymakers must accept that China will continue to grow, “and that it is neither possible nor wise for them to prevent that from happening.” Instead, he called on Washington to forge “a new deal that will integrate China’s aspirations into the current system of rules and standards.”

Implicit in Lee’s comments to Morrison was a criticism of the drastic shift in opinion about China that has taken place under his coalition government, some of whose officials have started talking openly about war with China in recent months.

Earlier this week Defense Minister Peter Dutton asked for a raise in the number of US servicemen rotating in Australia’s Northern Territory and suggested that US Navy ships operate from a base near Perth in the west of the country, stating that Australia “must be prepared for any eventuality ”.

The former Home Secretary said Australia seeks “a productive relationship with China – but we do not agree to break the law, we do not accept interference in our electoral process, we do not agree to break the law. ‘let us not accept interference in democratic processes’.

Critics of the government say that while the slowdown in relations has been caused to some extent by genuine concerns – from China’s maritime belligerence to its “wolf warrior diplomacy” and human rights in Hong Kong and China. Xinjiang – the threat posed by Chinese foreign interference is overstated, and new legislation aimed at curbing such interference has severely restricted civil rights in Australia.

Indeed, the particular tenor of the turn against China cannot be explained without reference to Australia’s persistence. fear of abandonment by the United States, a concern that has grown amid the outrages and uncertainties of the Trump administration. As in the United States, there is also national political utility for conservative politicians in taking strong “anti-China” positions.

In a recent series of three long articles in the Australian Financial Review, the publication’s former deputy editor, Max Suich, argued that domestic political advantage is one of the main drivers of Australia’s current Chinese policy.

“Although we have radically changed our approach, we have not set a political goal for the new relationship with China or a strategy for achieving it. We also didn’t look at the alternative options in depth, ”Suich wrote. “We have raised anger at Chinese activities in Australia and latent ministerial hostility towards China, turning threadbare slogans into politics.”