As China’s People’s Liberation Army continued to send warplanes to the Taiwan Strait, Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds called on China to exercise restraint and peace, stressing that Australia would continue to monitor the situation in the Taiwan Strait carefully and urge all parties to resolve disputes peacefully, in accordance with international law and taking into account the will of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen, and her foreign affairs chief, Joseph Wu, have made a public appeal to Australia to help thwart the Chinese military threat. Mr. Wu had warned in December that China’s accumulation of military threats had made Taiwan very concerned about the real prospect of a Chinese military attack. For her part, Ms Tsai said the risk of accidental conflict, driven by military threats, was rising. Mark Harrison, a Taiwan expert at the University of Tasmania, said China’s recent military moves were aimed at achieving a series of military threat system upgrades and were primarily an attempt to test the early days of President Joe Biden’s administration.
The US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt arrived in the South China Sea last week, and the US State Department issued a statement saying it had urged Beijing to stop its military, diplomatic and economic threats against Taiwan. Harrison said Australia, as an ally of the United States, would be under great pressure from Washington to support any American military action in the Taiwan Strait. He also noted that the Biden administration has made it clear that it intends to resume close cooperation with its Allies. If Chinese warplanes continue to harass Taiwan and escalate the military threat, then Australia will continue to come under more pressure.
Biden said his commitment to Taiwan was rock-solid, but Australia had not publicly decided on its position, the Australian Morning Herald reported. Australia has become more sensitive to its stance on Taiwan issues amid a tense standoff with China and a challenge to the ANZAC treaty, which forced Australia and New Zealand to back the US. Former US President Donald Trump’s Indo-Pacific strategy is expected to continue and intensify under Biden’s leadership.
Paul Dibb, a former Australian defence and intelligence official, said: “The future of the ANZAC treaty could be at risk if Australian troops were not willing to support the US if they were killed in the Taiwan Strait. “It’s very clear that President Xi Jinping has become more assertive, and it’s only recently that they have decided to step over the line.”
In addition to escalating military threats, the People’s Liberation Army has continued to build up its combat capabilities, sending troops to the naval base of the Northern Theater Command last week for training. These developments, aimed at standardizing cross-agency training, will help enhance its ability to prevent or launch amphibious incursions, according to China’s Ministry of National Defense. Mr. Harrison said Beijing was unlikely to provide the United States and the region with clear military defense guidelines.
“It is more likely that China will take incremental military action, such as launching limited air or naval contacts in the Taiwan Strait, or landing troops on disputed outlying islands, and then seek to win the crisis and seek concessions,” explained Mr Harrison.
In addition to the Taiwan Strait issue, China and Australia themselves remain deadlocked in trade and diplomatic disputes. Australian Prime Minister Morrison earlier this week reiterated his commitment to maintaining a discussion relationship with China. But he also issued a warning to China that the government in Canberra would never compromise Australia’s national sovereignty, stressing that this is not a move the Australian people would like their prime minister to take. “We will remain absolutely open to continuing discussions with China on any of the issues that have been discussed,” he said.
Mr Morrison added: “However, as I have made clear, these discussions will not be based on any additional preconditions, including any concessions that Australia must make on any issue.” It’s worth noting that Mr. Morrison last week denied to the Australian people that his call for an inquiry into the origin of the novel coronavirus sparked a wave of trade restrictions, but his actions are widely seen as exacerbating the consequences of China’s actions.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in December that he hoped Sino-Australian relations would improve soon. For his part, Mr. Morrison reiterated his view that the relationship between the two countries is as important to China as it is to Australia, but China is opinionated and often calls Australia out for a new era of diplomacy that Beijing has dubbed ‘Wolf warrior diplomacy.’