Taiwan’s foreign minister called on Australia to help safeguard peace and defend against Chinese aggression as relations between Canberra and Beijing hit a new low this week.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu told Stan Grant of Australia’s ABC News program The World that the risk of a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait was “much higher than before,” but noted that Taipei was not expecting Prime Minister Scott Morrison or any other international partner to send troops to the region.
Chinese military aircraft and vessel activity in the 100-mile stretch of water between Taiwan and mainland China has increased at an alarming rate in recent months, with President Tsai Ing-wen’s top diplomat saying the government was now “very concerned” about a Chinese invasion to reunify the island by force.
During the interview on Tuesday, Wu said the self-ruled democratic island, which Beijing claims as a rogue province, was “feeling the heat” of intensifying Chinese military activity around Taiwan, which also included two large-scale landing drills conducted by the People’s Liberation Army Navy in November.
Beijing’s air force has been flying warplanes across the Taiwan Strait median line or into the island’s air defense identification zone at a near daily rate. Last month, reports indicated that the United States had been responding by making similar incursions into Chinese airspace.
Minister Wu said China’s President Xi Jinping had made the country “more authoritarian than ever” with Beijing’s imposition of the Hong Kong national security law this summer and its “outward expansion” into disputed waters in the East and South China seas.
“If you look at the preparation on the Chinese side, we have to be very concerned about the real prospect of China launching a military attack against Taiwan,” Wu told Grant. “As a decision maker, I can tell you that we are looking at it with no light heart.”
He said Taipei was making preparations for a military conflict which he believed had the potential to spill over into the wider Asia-Pacific region.
He insisted Taiwan was attempting to act moderately and responsibly so as not to give Beijing “an excuse to launch at attack.” President Tsai’s government, however, accepted official visits by U.S. cabinet-level officials in August and September, while also striking no fewer than 10 weapons deals with President Donald Trump ‘s State Department since 2017.
Despite Wu’s claim that Taiwan would try to avoid actions which could be seen as provocative, Beijing has repeatedly warned that exchanges between Taipei and Washington had already crossed some sort of red line.
The minister echoed President-elect Joe Biden ‘s call for a coalition of democracies, saying he believed like-minded countries, including Australia, should work together to counter Chinese aggression.
“Australia has been a very powerful element or actor in the Indo-Pacific,” Wu was quoted as saying.
He added: “I’ve seen throughout history that Australia has made so much sacrifice in order to protect [global] principles and values. Therefore, I see like-minded countries like Japan and Australia and India and the United States can also work together to prevent China from further expansionism.”
“We always say that the defense of Taiwan is our own responsibility, and we have the determination to defend ourselves,” he said. “Looking beyond the [provision] of defensive articles, we certainly hope that Taiwan and the United States, and other like-minded countries, can exchange further on intelligence or information about what we have on China.”
“Because what we know about China, what we see on China, may not be enough,” Wu added.
When asked about the prospect of military aid in the event of a Taiwan Strait conflict, Wu said Taipei would “highly appreciate” an Australian troop presence in the region but noted it was “not what we are looking for.”
On an official level, Australia, like the U.S., adheres to Beijing’s “one-China” principle, which prevents any official diplomatic exchanges with what it sees as an illegitimate government in Taiwan.
However, Wu suggested there was more than a little wiggle room to allow for the continued progression of “substantive” Taiwan-Australia relations, despite pressure from China.
Canberra and Beijing have been engaged in a war of words since Monday after Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian shared a tweet containing a Photoshopped image of an Australian solider killing a young Afghan child.
Prime Minister Morrison described the tweet as “repugnant” and demanded an apology from China. But Beijing rejected Australia’s protests and has doubled down on its position at successive press briefings since, claiming the image was a factual depiction of Australia’s alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
The latest dispute brings relations between Australia and China to a new low, at a time when the Chinese leadership has seen fit to hit Australian imports with a set of punitive barriers, including a 200 percent tariff on its wines.
Taiwan’s foreign minister said it was “truly unfortunate” that China had chosen to weaponize trade against Australia, emphasizing the need for the international community to stick together and back Canberra.
“We are stronger together,” Wu said.
If Taiwan were to ever recognize Beijing’s “one-China” principle, or trade in its current political system for economic gain under Chinese Communist Party rule, it would spell the “end of Taiwan autonomy” as it has for Hong Kong, he added.
“As a democracy, Taiwan cannot be allowed to fail,” Wu said.
While President Tsai has been showcasing her government’s soft power on Twitter, Minister Wu has been the face of Taiwan’s public diplomacy efforts abroad.
Riding a wave of Tsai’s popularity among Indian Twitter users, Wu appeared on television station WION in October in order to spell out Taipei’s proximity to Chinese expansionism .
Last month, he discussed the “decline of freedom and democracy” in Hong Kong as well as U.S. support for Taiwan in a virtual session with British Conservatives representing the U.K.’s China Research Group.
“Australia is Taiwan’s important like-minded partner,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou told Newsweek on Wednesday. “Our nations share common values of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law.”
“Taiwan and its people deeply empathize with Australia in light of the Chinese government’s outright attack with disinformation and a false doctored image,” she added.
Ou noted that Minister Wu’s recent interviews allowed him to “present Taiwan’s freedom and democracy; our country’s idea of human rights as well as our rich culture.”
Taiwan seeks to deepen its working relationship with Australia, India as well as European nations. Similar “like-minded countries” can help create a “prosperous and free Indo-Pacific region,” she elaborated.
The foreign ministry said the government’s chief diplomat would continue to take similar opportunities to expound Taiwan’s foreign policy.
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