Britain warns Putin and Xi: West will stand up to ‘dictatorship’

SYDNEY, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Britain warned Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday that its allies would stand together to fight for democracy against dictatorships that it said were more emboldened than at any time since the Cold War.

Speaking in Australia, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Britain and its allies in the “free world” must respond together to global threats, deepen ties with democracies in the Indo-Pacific and “face down global aggressors” who were using economic dependence to try to get what they want.

Truss and Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, met their Australian counterparts in Sydney for the annual Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations (AUKMIN), where a deal for Australia to acquire nuclear submarines was discussed.

Australia’s defense minister, Peter Dutton, said there was no plan to establish a British military base in Australia. The two countries signed deals to fund infrastructure in the region as a counter to Beijing’s influence.

In a joint statement, the ministers expressed concern at Russia’s military build-up on the border with Ukraine and “their absolute support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. Russia denies planning to invade Ukraine.

In a speech at the Lowy Institute foreign affairs think tank, Truss said Putin should “desist and step back from Ukraine before he makes a massive strategic mistake.”

Truss said “invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and loss of life, as we know from the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan war and conflict in Chechnya.”

Global aggressors “are emboldened in a way we haven’t seen since the Cold War,” Truss said.

“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.”

Britain should work with allies such as Australia, Israel, India, Japan and Indonesia to “face down global aggressors”, especially in the Pacific.

China’s “economic coercion” of Australia was “one of the wake-up calls” to Britain that Beijing was using its economic might to exert control over other countries, she said.

Beijing, which imposed trade sanctions on Australian goods after Canberra called for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, has denied accusations of economic coercion.

Asked about the UK-Australia talks and their focus on countering China’s growing clout, the foreign ministry in Beijing rejected such conclusions.

“On the so-called China threat, it is also based on nonsense, China firmly objects to this, we urge relevant parties not to go further on the wrong path of creating division and confrontation,” Zhao Lijian, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told a daily briefing on Friday.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London, Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Emily Chow in Beijing; Additional reporting by Martin Pollard; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge in London, editing by Gerry Doyle and Timothy Heritage

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