It was no accident that Prime Minister Tony Abbott talked about “countries” in the plural form when he fronted Parliament to lambast the kind of behaviour that led to the MH17 disaster: “The bullying of small countries by big ones, the trampling of justice and decency in the pursuit of national aggrandisement, and reckless indifference to human life should have no place in our world.”
Mr Abbott’s fury was aimed at Russia but his words echoed ones that he had previously directed at China.
“No big country is entitled to get its way with smaller countries just because it can,” said Mr Abbott in 2012, when visiting Beijing as Opposition leader and referring to concerns about China’s behaviour in the South China Sea.
Mr Abbott was, in turn, picking up on the language of the Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, who famously told “small countries” in South-east Asia to get out of China’s way.
The Prime Minister clearly sees both Russia and China as guilty of roiling the international order by bullying small countries in pursuit of national aggrandisement, although China’s appetite for brinkmanship is far more carefully calibrated.