Foreign Secretary Liz Truss' speech to the Lowy Institute
Liz Truss spoke about how threats to freedom, democracy and the rule of law are global, and why nations like the UK and Australia have to respond together
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of this land – the Gadigal people – and by paying my respects to Elders past and present.
It’s great to be back in Sydney and at the Lowy Institute with my friend Marise Payne. As the UK sets out on its future as global Britain, we now have full use of our trade, our defence, our diplomacy, and our development policies, to be able to work with friends and partners across the world. And I see Australia as a real inspiration in that, in it with the work you do to promote free trade, freedom of speech, human rights, and rights for women and girls as a leading nation.
And our close bonds now are more important than they’ve ever been. And we are doing more and more together. And it’s vital because of the growing threats we face.
The Kremlin hasn’t learned the lessons of history. They dream of recreating the Soviet Union, or a kind of ‘Greater Russia’ carving up territory based on ethnicity, and language. They claim they want stability, while they work to threaten and destabilise others.
We know what lies down that path, and the terrible toll in lives lost and human suffering it brings. That’s why we urge President Putin to desist and step back from Ukraine before he makes a massive strategic mistake.
Ukraine is a proud country with a long history. They have known invading forces before – from the Mongols to the Tatars. They suffered through the state-sponsored famine. Their resilience runs deep. If they have to, Ukrainians will fight to defend their country.
Invasion will only lead to a quagmire, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war or the conflict in Chechnya.
Last week, at the NATO-Russia Council we sent a clear message to Moscow that any further incursion into Ukraine would bring massive consequences, including through coordinated sanctions hitting the financial sector, and individuals.
This week, the United Kingdom announced a new package of training, support and defensive weapons for Ukraine to boost their defensive capabilities. And we’re working with our partners on high impact measures targeting the Russian financial sector, and individuals.
We’re also strengthening our bilateral partnership following high-level talks in London in December – and we’re fostering new trilateral ties with Poland and Ukraine.
We’re also pushing for alternatives in energy supply, so that nations are less reliant on Russia for their gas.
We need everyone to step up. Together with our allies, we will continue to stand with Ukraine and urge Russia to de-escalate.
What happens in Eastern Europe matters for the world. Threats to freedom, democracy and the rule of law are not just regional – they’re global. And that’s why we have to respond together.
Iran’s nuclear programme has never been more advanced. China has been conducting military flights near Taiwan. And it is using its economic muscle to attempt to coerce democracies like Australia and Lithuania.
Russia and China are working together more and more, as they strive to set the standards in technologies like artificial intelligence, assert their dominance over the Western Pacific through joint military exercises and in space through closer ties. The International Institute for Strategic Studies argues we are now seeing the “strongest, closest and best relationship” the 2 countries have had for 70 years.
And we are seeing an alignment of authoritarian regimes across the world. It is no surprise that regimes like Belarus, North Korea or Myanmar find their closest allies in Moscow and Beijing.
They don’t look to these nations as partners but as puppets. Moscow wants them to promote their propaganda and destabilise free democracies on their doorstep. At the same time, Beijing has forged a so-called “iron brotherhood” with Belarus. China is the biggest buyer of Iranian oil and Pyongyang’s largest trading partner.
China and Russia have spotted an ideological vacuum and they’re rushing to fill it. They are emboldened in a way we haven’t seen since the Cold War.
As freedom-loving democracies we must rise up to face down these threats. As well as NATO we are working with partners like Australia, India, Japan, Indonesia and Israel to build a global network of liberty.
Aggressors are reneging on their commitments and obligations. They’re destabilising the rules-based international order and they’re chipping away at the values that underpin it. But they have nothing to offer in its place.
The free world is different. We’re not defined by what we’re against but by what we’re for.
We believe in freedom and democracy. We believe in individual liberty as the greatest transformative force on earth. When people have agency over their own lives, when they have freedom and opportunity, they achieve incredible things.
As Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “we know from the evidence of human history that democracies are the engine room of change.”
We see this in the ideas and innovations that fuelled our fightback against COVID – from the University of Sydney’s Edward Holmes publishing the COVID genome, to Oxford’s Sarah Gilbert and her life-saving vaccine, to our shared efforts to distribute vaccines to those in need around the world.
We want to work together to tackle the big problems we face. That does include working with countries like China and Russia where it’s necessary – on trade, tackling climate change, or bringing Iran to the negotiating table. But in doing so, we will stand up for what we believe in.
In December, I welcomed G7 Foreign Ministers to Liverpool, together with Marise Payne and some of our other closest friends and allies.
We expressed our concern about China’s economic coercive policies and we united to condemn Russia’s aggression. Together, we showed our determination to stand shoulder to shoulder for freedom and democracy around the world.
We are continuing that vital work this week with our AUKMIN, our Australia-UK Foreign and Defence Ministerial Meeting, the first that we’ve had since 2018.
And we’re determined to act together in 3 key areas.
First, we will stand up for our economic security.
That means calling out China when it blocks products from Lithuania or imposes punitive tariffs on Australian barley and wine. It means cutting strategic dependence on authoritarian regimes, starting with Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.
It means helping countries avoiding having their balance sheets loaded with debt. It is estimated that 44 low to middle income countries have debts to Beijing in excess of 10% of their GDP.
We’re responding on all of these fronts. And we’re strengthening our supply chains by taking our economic ties with like-minded nations to new heights.
We took a huge step forward by signing our Free Trade Agreement with Australia in December.
This is a world-class deal that will remove all of the tariffs on goods, both ways. It will be easier for our people to live and work in each other’s countries, particularly those under 35.
We are building on this by working with Australia to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership – reinforcing the reliability of supply through one of the largest free trade areas on earth. We’re also working together to provide low and middle income countries with honest and reliable alternative sources of investment.
In November, I launched British International Investment, helping to mobilise up to £8 billion a year of public and private financing to these countries by 2025, leveraging the firepower of the City of London.
Yesterday, Marise Payne and I agreed on closer UK-Australia cooperation to boost opportunities for investment across the Indo-Pacific – particularly in areas like energy, climate change, adaptation and technology.
And we are working together to impose sanctions on human rights abuses and to keep those using forced labour out of our supply chains.
Second, freedom must be defended and that’s why we are deepening our security ties.
Last year in our Integrated Review, the UK we set out a new deterrence posture – including the biggest increase in defence spending since the end of the Cold War.
We need to see everyone stepping up in this way. Too few of our NATO allies are meeting the 2% spending target. So it’s great to see that Australia is also increasing its commitments to our collective security.
The power of our partnership has been demonstrated time and time again. We will forever remember those from Australia and New Zealand who gave their lives for freedom on the historic battlefields of Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Pacific.
The depth of our commitment remains plain to see today, from the 5 Eyes intelligence partnership, to the Five Power Defence Arrangements with our friends Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand, to the Carrier Strike Group which visited the region last year, led by HMS Queen Elizabeth. Our forces exercised in the South China Sea with ships and aircraft from Australia and other partners – standing up for our mutual interests, and supporting regional stability.
And of course last year we finalised our landmark AUKUS partnership. With this deal, we’ve opened a bold new era in our long history together.
By joining forces with the US we are showing our determination to protect security and stability across the region. We are helping Australia acquire a nuclear powered submarine, and also means deeper cooperation between our three nations on advanced capabilities like cyber, AI and quantum. We want to use this deeper expertise to help support stability with partners right across the Indo Pacific.
I’m looking forward tomorrow to visiting the shipyard in Adelaide, where the UK and Australia are building new Type 26 Frigates. And Adelaide will of course play an important role in developing the new AUKUS submarines.
This is a truly formidable and cutting edge partnership – and we are determined to continue strengthening it for the benefit of us all.
Finally, we are boosting our cooperation on technology.
Technology has empowered people by enabling incredible freedom, but we know it can be seized upon by others to promote fear. We cannot allow the technologies of the future to be hijacked for malign ends – whether it’s cyber attacks, or building high-tech surveillance states through facial recognition software and AI.
Global technology standards must be shaped by the free world. That’s why we want to go further and faster by deepening our science and tech collaboration.
Just as Australia has banned Huawei from its 5G network, we are stripping high-risk vendors out of our infrastructure. And we are embracing Australian expertise – for example to bring the state-of-the-art 5G to the London Underground.
Delivering our strategic advantage in science and technology is an absolutely vital objective of the integrated review.
And so I am pleased that this week we’re launching our new Cyber and Critical Technology Partnership with Australia – aimed at tackling malign actors, strengthening supply chains and harnessing tech to support freedom and democracy.
Building these partnerships and drawing other countries closer to the orbit of free-market democracies, will ultimately make us all safer and freer in the years to come.
That is why it is time for the free world to stand its ground. We need to face down global aggressors.
We should be proud of our ideas and our ideals – clear about what they have brought to mankind, and even more ambitious for what we can do together in the future.
Forty years ago Margaret Thatcher gave the Sir Robert Menzies lecture in Melbourne. She said: “Where freedom…exists, I seek to expand it; where it is under attack, I shall defend it; where it does not exist, I shall try to create it.”
I cannot think of a better friend than Australia to work with on this vital endeavour. We can make great things happen.