The gulf between the two groups widened at the Osaka summit. Russian President Vladimir Putin displayed the hubris of a strongman by saying that liberalism was “obsolete” and had “outlived its purpose” – a view rejected by European Council president Donald Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland.
“For us in Europe, these are and will remain essential and vibrant values,” said Tusk. “What I find really obsolete are authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs.”
Morrison merely offered MbS his best wishes for hosting the G20 next year. The Australian position is to back Turkey in its call to hold to account those responsible for Khashoggi’s death in Istanbul.
In Morrison’s view, liberalism is “very much alive” and the storm over Putin’s remarks should not be overblown.
“That’s his view, I don’t share it, Australia doesn’t share it and I don’t think it’s shared more broadly,” he said in an interview with The Sun Herald and The Sunday Age.
“Elections in places like Indonesia, Australia, India, I think, tell a very different story.”
Some of the Prime Minister’s meetings were more relaxed. Morrison and his wife Jenny sat next to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 dinner on Friday night and spoke over a meal of charcoal baked tajima beef and maitake mushrooms (with a vegetarian option). Morrison talked to Modi about his custom of cooking an Indian curry for his family.
For Australia, the most effective discussions at the Osaka summit were those that helped secure a statement on removing violent videos from Facebook and other social media platforms.
Morrison pursued his plan directly with other leaders and gained strong support from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and counterparts including Emmanuel Macron from France, Angela Merkel from Germany, Justin Trudeau from Canada and Theresa May from the United Kingdom.
It is not easy for any single country to put a new proposal to the G20 and have it carried by consensus. Whether this leads to any concrete action around the world remains to be seen, but just getting the consensus was a better outcome for Morrison than many expected.
The summit as a whole made no advance on trade and economic growth, the twin issues the gathering is meant to be all about.
For Morrison, however, the summit was a personal success.
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.