Australia urged to do more to avoid China-Taiwan conflict

Australia urged to do more to avoid China-Taiwan conflict

“Major conflict could swiftly reverse this region’s economic miracle, triggering an Australian recession given our considerable trade dependence upon China, with serious consequences for the Australian economy and standard of living.

“Given the high stakes involved, the question Australian policymakers should instead be asking is what, if anything, Canberra can do to reduce the risk of conflict erupting in the first place.”

China and Taiwan separated during civil war in 1949, but Beijing still claims sovereignty over the island and occasionally threatens to use force to seize control.

Tensions between Beijing and Taipei have been rising since Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s re-election last month, with the Chinese military flexing its muscles in the Taiwan Strait. The paper said a “major strategic crisis”, which threatened to be significantly more serious than those in the 1950s and mid-1990s, was brewing.

Professor Taylor said Beijing’s risky behaviour in the Taiwan Strait did not necessarily mean Chinese President Xi Jinping wanted a military conflict, but history showed wars were often the “product of mis-perception and miscalculation”.

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Rather than continuing to debate Australia’s obligations to the United States should it invoke the ANZUS treaty in a Taiwan conflict, he said Australia should work with other regional powers such as Singapore and Japan to reduce the risk of inadvertent conflict and manage a full-blown crisis.

Drawing inspiration from the Menzies government when it used its alliance channels vigorously to avert a major conflict in the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1954-55, Canberra should drive a process in which formal hotlines, crisis mitigation and avoidance mechanisms were put in place to help ease tensions, he said.

It should advocate for “more robust crisis avoidance, management and confidence-building” rather than focusing on its alliance obligations or “lying low due to the fragile state of Sino-Australian relations”.

A crisis hotline that allows leaders of North and South Korea to communicate directly, and Japan and China’s new “communication mechanism” to reduce the risk of accidental clashes between military ships and aircraft in the East China Sea were examples to follow.

“Crisis management and avoidance mechanisms are typically not controversial. At the height of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union developed and used such arrangements, most famously in the immediate aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when a high-level hotline connecting the Kremlin and Pentagon was established,” the paper said.

Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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