Originally published on theconversation.com
Former prime minister Tony Abbott has warned China could “lash out disastrously” at Taiwan very soon.
In a speech in Taipei, Abbott condemned China’s growing belligerence towards Taiwan and said Australia should not be indifferent to its fate.
Abbott – who as prime minister concluded the free trade agreement with China – recalled the warmer relations between China and Australia in those days.
“Much has changed in just six years, but it’s not Australia’s goodwill towards the people of China, about a million of whom are now Australians and making a fine contribution to our country,” he said.
Australia had no issue with China, Abbott said. “We welcome trade, investment and visits – just not further hectoring about being the chewing gum on China’s boot.”
He said if the “drums of war” could be heard in the region – as home affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo put it in April – “it’s not Australia that’s beating them.
“The only drums we beat are for justice and freedom – freedom for all people, in China and in Taiwan, to make their own decisions about their lives and their futures,” Abbott said.
“But that’s not how China sees it, as its growing belligerence to Taiwan shows. Sensing that its relative power might have peaked, with its population ageing, its economy slowing, and its finances creaking, it’s quite possible that Beijing could lash out disastrously very soon.”
Abbott said that “our challenge is to try and ensure that the unthinkable remains unlikely and that the possible doesn’t become the probable.”
“That’s why Taiwan’s friends are so important now: to stress that Taiwan’s future should be decided by its own people and to let Beijing know that any attempt at coercion would have incalculable consequences.”
Abbott’s visit comes at a time of high tension between China and Taiwan, with China repeatedly sending large numbers of military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence zone.
Taiwan’s defence minister claimed this week military tensions between China and Taiwan were at their worst in more than 40 years.
Asked earlier this week about the visit, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was a private trip and Abbott was not passing on any government messages.
“Tony is in Taiwan as a private citizen, and I didn’t have any conversation with him before that.”
But Abbott has been given VIP treatment during his visit and accorded high-level government meetings.
Australia has a “one China” policy diplomatically but there are close economic relations between Australia and Taiwan, including trade and investment and, before the pandemic, tourism.
In his speech, Abbott said China had created the new Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (between the United States, Australia, Japan and India), “because it’s been so unreasonable”.
“And the more aggressive it becomes, the more opponents it will have,” Abbott said.
The US State Department had just affirmed America’s commitment to Taiwan was “rock solid”, he said.
“I don’t think America could stand by and watch Taiwan swallowed up. I don’t think Australia should be indifferent to the fate of a fellow democracy of almost 25 million people.”
Abbott observed the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, had put it well when he said America would be competitive with China when it should be, collaborative when it could be, and adversarial when it must be.
“Provided it’s real, collaboration is still possible and trust could yet be rebuilt. But Taiwan will be the test,” Abbott said.
He said Taiwan should be welcomed into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
But China, which is seeking to join the trade pact, “could never be admitted to the TPP while engaged in a trade war with Australia, and in predatory trade all-round”.
Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.