Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 6 October 2021

 Abbott lands in under-threat Taiwan

HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and America’s USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson in waters southwest of Okinawa at the weekend. Picture: Royal Navy

HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and America’s USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson in waters southwest of Okinawa at the weekend. Picture: Royal Navy

Former prime minister Tony ­Abbott has arrived in Taiwan as the island democracy works with partners to defend itself from a campaign of military intimidation by China.

Mr Abbott will give a keynote address on Friday at the Yushan Forum, an annual conference aimed at strengthening Taiwan’s relations in the increasingly contested region.

On Wednesday, he met with Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu, who thanked the former PM for backing Taiwan’s bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a giant trade pact.

“He’s a fair dinkum free trader [and] bold backer of our [CPTPP] bid. Thanks for the support [and] all the best for the [Yushan Forum] keynote, my friend!” minister Wu said on Twitter after their lunch meeting.

Abbott will soon meet with President Tsai Ing-wen, who this week warned that a takeover of the ­island of 24 million people by China would be “catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system”.

“It would signal that in today’s global contest of values, authoritarianism has the upper hand over democracy,” Ms Tsai wrote in a new essay in Foreign Affairs.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott. Picture: AAP

Former prime minister Tony Abbott. Picture: AAP

A delegation of French senators – including former defence minister Alain Richard – flew to Taiwan on Wednesday, and will also meet with Ms Tsai and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.

China’s foreign ministry expressed “serious concern” about the French visit, which is taking place during heightened concern across much of the global community about Beijing’s aggression. Beijing opposes Taiwan having diplomatic exchanges and threatens politicians against visiting the island, which it treats as a wayward province.

The joint visits come after China flew a record 56 fighter jets near Taiwan on Monday as Beijing’s propaganda machine warned war “may be triggered at any time”. Nearly 150 Chinese warplanes have breached Taiwan’s air defence identification zone since Friday, when China celebrated its National Day.

Monday’s wave of People’s Liberation Army aircraft included 12 nuclear-capable bombers.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Ms Tsai said Taiwan’s democracy was not negotiable. “Amid almost daily intrusions by the People’s Liberation Army, our position on cross-strait relations remains constant: Taiwan will not bend to pressure, but nor will it turn adventurist, even when it accumulates support from the international community,” she wrote.

The US – Taiwan’s most important security partner – has long insisted that the future of Taiwan be determined by peaceful means.

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he had discussed Taiwan with China’s President Xi Jinping. “We made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement,” Mr Biden said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshi­mitsu Motegi said he hoped the situation would be “resolved peacefully between the two parties through direct talks … instead of simply monitoring the situation, we hope to weigh various possible scenarios that may arise to consider what options we have, as well as preparations we must make.”

Tokyo has spoken with increased directness about the consequences of Beijing using military force in the Taiwan Strait.

The Japan Maritime Self-­Defence Force this weekend trained with Britain’s HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and America’s USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson for an exercise in waters southwest of Oki­nawa, along with warships from Canada, The Netherlands and New Zealand.

New members need the support of all the group’s eight ratified members, which include Australia, Japan and Canada. He last week told a parliamentary inquiry that the only argument for opposing Taiwan’s entry would be that “it might upset China … but given that China is not a member … is unlikely to become a member … and is already in a state of high dudgeon against Australia and many other countries, I don’t see that China is going to be any more upset than it already is.”

Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull gave an online keynote address at last year’s Yushan Forum, at which he said “China’s unilateral actions in the South China Sea (were) becoming a nightmare for ASEAN”.

On Monday, China’s envoy to Malaysia was summoned in protest after Chinese vessels entered its maritime economic zone.

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