Taipei | Taiwan’s Foreign Minister has warned Anthony Albanese ahead of his visit to Beijing that China may take advantage of warmer ties with Western democracies to try to isolate Taipei and bring it under Communist rule.
While confident of Labor’s support for Taiwan, Joseph Wu said Australia and other countries should have a “very clear eye” about why President Xi Jinping was seeking to improve relations with them at a time when he still had ambitions to expand China’s global influence.
China has intensified military pressure on Taiwan over the past year, sending naval ships and aircraft in record numbers closer to the self-governed island’s territory.
Mr Xi has said the “reunification” of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, with Communist China was inevitable.
In an interview with The Australian Financial Review, Mr Wu called for Australia to use economic sanctions or coercion against China, rather than join any military action, if it invaded Taiwan.
“China seems to be rather focused on improving its ties with the United States, Europe Japan and Australia. We need to keep a very clear eye on whether China is taking advantage of calmer relations with other key democracies and use that to apply more pressure on Taiwan. That is what we are looking at here in Taiwan,” Mr Wu said.
His comments foreshadowed those of US President Joe Biden, who on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT) also warned Mr Albanese to be wary in his dealings with Mr Xi.
Asked at their joint press conference in Washington about China’s re-engagement with Australia ahead of Mr Albanese’s trip to Beijing next week, and whether China can be trusted, Mr Biden responded: “Trust but verify is the phrase”.
Taiwan is concerned Australia and other countries will reject Taiwan’s bid to join the trans-Pacific trading bloc know by the acronym CPTPP due to opposition from China, which does not want Taipei to be recognised by international bodies.
There are also fears in Taipei that countries could be blinded by China’s economic power and drop their support for maintaining the island’s unique “status quo”, which allows it to be self-governed but does not have diplomatic independence.
Mr Wu urged Australia to recognise Taiwan’s bid to join the CPTPP on its own merits, rather than basing a decision around what China might do.
While he said he was not concerned about the first visit by an Australian prime minister to China for seven years, he emphasised three times during a 50-minute interview that Beijing could use warmer relations with Australia to “pressure” Taiwan.
“I don’t worry about Australia; Australia is a good friend, even though the current government is trying to improve its ties with China and resolve the trade sanctions imposed by China,” he said when asked if he was concerned about Mr Albanese’s visit to China late next week.
“We feel rather comfortable about our relations with Australia, but China is very different. They might take advantage of the situation in that they are warming up their relations with other partners of Taiwan and applying more pressure on Taiwan. It is not just Australia that China is warming up relations with.”
China has recently reopened high-level talks with senior US officials, while also moving to stabilise relations with Australia. In the past fortnight, Beijing has agreed to review punitive wine tariffs, and released jailed journalist Cheng Lei. All this has cleared the way for Mr Albanese’s trip to Beijing.
Taiwan fears China could convince Australia to block its bid to joint he trans-Pacific trade pact to isolate it internationally. Mr Wu said Australia and other members must consider Taiwan’s application to join the bloc on its own merit.
Asked what role he expected Australia to play if China invaded Taiwan, Mr Wu said economic sanctions would be the most effective.
“We are not asking Australia to fight a war for Taiwan. That is not what we are asking for. But if China is to use force against Taiwan, there might be something Australia can think of to render some cost on China for example, economic coercion, economic sanctions against China, or working together with other like-minded countries to prevent things from getting worse,” Mr Wu said, referring to the US and Japan.
“I’m sure Australia can play some role. It may not be in military activities, but there must be something that Australia would be willing to shoulder together with its partners.
He did not specify what kind of economic coercion would be effective. Australia is China’s biggest source of iron ore, a critical steel-making commodity, which would be in even higher demand if it went to war.
While Mr Wu said there was no sign a Chinese invasion of Taiwan was imminent, people in his country were worried war in the Middle East would drain US attention and resources.
“When the war broke out on October7 that is something many people in Taiwan were concerned about as well, just as when Russia launched a war against Ukraine. We are concerned the United States will be drawn into those complex situations and then its attention to the Indo-Pacific and China’s expansionism into this part of the world will not be enough,” he said.
“But after very close consultations with our US friends these might not be things we need to worry about,” he added, referring to US President Joe Biden’s request to Congress for $US100 billion ($158 billion) in military aid for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and the US-Mexican border.
“I think the US support is there, the US support is not distracted by war in the Middle East. They are still clear eyed and still very focused on what China may do these days,” he said.
Mr Wu said he understood Australia’s need for improving economic ties with China, and he was comfortable that at the same time the Albanese government was increasing its military capability against “China’s attempt to use force in this region”.
He singled out the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine pact and Australia’s Defence Strategic Review. He said it would be difficult for Taiwan to participate in the Quad despite Scott Morrison’s call earlier this month that it be allowed to join as a non-member state.
Mr Wu was speaking during a week of political drama in Taiwan as the island prepares for presidential elections on January 13. It is still unclear if the territory’s two major opposition parties will join forces to topple the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
A fourth presidential candidate, billionaire Terry Gou, was in the spotlight after Beijing launched a tax probe into the China operations of Foxconn, the iPhone manufacturer he founded. The DPP claims it is a push by China to force Mr Gou to step out of the election race to give parties more sympathetic to China a better chance at winning.
“It is a blatant intervention in Taiwan’s election,” Mr Wu said.
Read the latest about Australia’s China challenge
- ‘We’re a Pacific nation’: Biden’s pledge to Australia on China US President Joe Biden has revealed he told Chinese President Xi Jinping America would continue to engage with Australia because the US was a “Pacific nation”.
- Australia, US to team up for space race against China The Albanese government will axe restrictions on commercial US rocket launches in Australia, opening the door for the likes of Elon Musk to set up operations in the outback.
- China and Indo-Pacific ‘right at the top’ of Biden’s priorities The White House maintains it won’t let wars in Europe and the Middle East distract the US from the challenge posed by China.
- Explainer | The map that shows Australia’s nine most important allies The long list of alliances that Australia has joined in recent years is dizzying. Our international editor James Curran untangles the alphabet soup of acronyms and ranks them by importance.
- Albanese confident Congress will pass AUKUS bills Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is not planning to increase Australia’s contribution to submarine production in the US to win over wavering senators.
Fetching latest articles