Last week former prime minister Paul Keating tried to assistby offering Canberra a contemporary conceptual ramework with which to make sense of all of this. Far
from receiving an intellectually coherent response, the Prime Minister and Defence Minister retreated to puerile name calling. These are individuals who have the power to send
young Australians to war to defend the country but cannot offer a defence of their own policies when criticised by a distinguished former prime minister.
Keating’s comments on Taiwan attracted most of the vitriol. But questioning what Australian interest is served by joining with the US in any conflflict with China over Taiwan is
perfectly reasonable. Whatever one’s views, reasoned debate on such matters should be welcomed.
The near obsession by some senior government ministers and offificials over Taiwan is
itself rather odd. In foreign and security policy nearly every event is possible, but it is important to assign probabilities to possible outcomes. As Keating argued, the probability of Beijing
instigating a civil war – which is what it would be – must be next to zero. It is doubtful any leader in Beijing could survive Han Chinese killing Han Chinese over Taiwan. Nor is the question
of Beijing’s actual military options for Taiwan ever discussed by those who are constantly warning darkly over war in the defence of Taiwan.
If Beijing were intent on invading Taiwan, its military options are severely limited – as is its chance of success.
about China has
in the making
Some fret over an accident in
and around the Taiwan Strait that could bring on direct military conflflict between the US and China that could escalate rapidly into a major war. This nightmare scenario
would depend on how heated the tensions already were between Beijing and Washington and how far, as a result, communications between the two had deteriorated. Certainly,
constant talk of war from Australia’s leaders does nothing to ease tensions onthis issue.
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In Beijing these days, Australia is hardly mentioned. If anything, we are viewed with polite bemusement. The one exception is Taiwan. At dinner parties, well-educated Chinese
guests will invariably ask me why Australia seems so obsessed with war over Taiwan.
For them, it seems odd and out of step with other governments, especially as Australia is so distant from Taiwan.
No one doubts Australia’s commitment to its US alliance relationship, but since Australia has for 50 years recognised Beijing’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, it seems to people
who think about such things in Beijing that Australia is seeking to provoke conflflict.
US doesn’t want a
new coldwar with
Is Xi Jinping
man of destiny
for the 21st century?
My book, which was published before the US presidential election last year, concluded that Australia needs to be alert to the high probability that the US would during this term – no matter
whether it was Trump or Biden – reset its relationship with China. It would do this not because it took a different view of China and its challenges to US global pre-eminence, but because
containment had not worked.
Worse, in some respects it had been counterproductive, such as encouraging China to decouple and redouble its efforts in AI and semi conductors.
As Winston Churchill once observed, the US will do the right thing once it had exhausted all alternatives
Need to know.Our daily reporting, in your inbox.Geoff Raby was Australia’s ambassador to China, 2007-11. His book, China’s Grand Strategy and Australia’s Future in the New Global Order, was published on 3 November by MUP.