Australian defence chief says war between China and Taiwan would be ‘disastrous’

16-Apr-2021 Intellasia | TheGuardian | 8:11 AM Print This Post

The outbreak of a war over Taiwan would be “disastrous” for the region, the chief of the Australian defence force has warned, as he indicated Australia would keep pushing for peaceful dialogue.

General Angus Campbell urged countries to “all work to avoid” conflict over the future of Taiwan, speaking just weeks after an American diplomat revealed the US and Australia were planning how to respond to military scenarios in the region.

Taiwan’s government said 25 Chinese military jets breached its defence zone on Monday in what amounted to the largest such incursion in a year, while China has cautioned what it considers independence forces against “playing with fire”.

A former defence minister, Christopher Pyne, told an audience in Adelaide this week Taiwan loomed as the “most likely next flashpoint in the region” and Australia could get dragged into a conflict. A war involving China, Pyne said, was “something that you and I may well have to confront in the next five to 10 years”.

The Australian chief of defence force, Angus Campbell, told the Raisina Dialogue in India all countries must work to avoid a war involving China over the future of Taiwan. (Getty Images)

The Australian chief of defence force, Angus Campbell, told the Raisina Dialogue in India all countries must work to avoid a war involving China over the future of Taiwan. (Getty Images)

Campbell told an international forum late on Thursday he had listened “with interest to former minister Pyne’s comments” but the ADF chief said he interpreted them “as part of a jigsaw of a very complicated strategic environment”.

“Australia is very clear that the future of China and Taiwan needs to be a future that is resolved peacefully,” Campbell told a virtual session of the Raisina Dialogue in India.

“Conflict over the island of Taiwan would be a disastrous experience for the peoples of the region and it’s something that we should all work to avoid. There is a pathway to a future through peaceful dialogue, but it’s a hard path and it needs to be worked.”

Campbell said conflict must always be “our last resort and diplomacy our first”. But he also said the current times meant “both diplomatic and military weight and effort, working in complement, is tremendously important”.

The US embassy in Australia’s chargé d’affaires, Michael Goldman, said during a podcast recorded last month that the two allies’ “strategic planning” covered a “range of contingencies … of which Taiwan is obviously an important component”.

Asked on Thursday evening about such planning, Campbell said all militaries undertook “a whole variety of planning” and “rarely ever talk about it”.

He said the point about building defence relationships with like-minded countries and understanding the interests and world view of others was “both to lessen the potential for conflict and if necessary be more effective in conflict”.

Campbell said another goal of such planning was to “create a much more complex conflict calculus in the minds of adversaries about what happens when we’re not on our own but when we are working together”.

During the panel session, Campbell was also asked whether China was using “grey zone” tactics actions that fell short of military conflict to pursue its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

“This isn’t a new tactic; nations have sought to nibble away at arrangements that they are uncomfortable with for thousands of years,” Campbell replied.

“What we see in the modern era, though, with the opportunities of a globalised internet environment, we can see scale and ubiquity and instantaneous action through the cyber domain.

“And if there is a will, you can see in places like the South China Sea the effort at effectively changing the norms or rules on the ground.”

Campbell said it was “always challenging” for other countries to respond to such tactics “while not seeking to breach that barrier into open conflict”.

He said democracies needed to put “shields” around their own domestic institutions, protect their sovereignty and express clearly their national interests.

Sunlight could be “an extraordinarily powerful disinfectant” and help galvanise “a much wider community of common interest”.

“And I think and I don’t speak just of one country – I think we are seeking this more frequently now: as the trend towards the misuse of that grey space between norms and rules and the outbreak of conflict is very commonly being exploited,” Campbell said.

A top US commander publicly voiced concerns in March that China could potentially invade Taiwan within the next six years. It prompted China’s foreign ministry to accuse the US of “exploiting the Taiwan question to exaggerate China’s military threat” and of “looking for excuses to justify the increase of the US military expenditure”.

Relations between China and Australia plunged last year amid a public disagreement over the Morrison government’s early calls for a global inquiry into the origins and handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Beijing took a series of trade actions against Australian exports including barley, wine, coal and lobster.

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, used his own speech to the Raisina Dialogue earlier on Thursday to argue the world was at risk of “a great polarisation” between autocracies and democracies.

Morrison said liberal rules and norms were “under assault”, tensions over territorial claims in the Indo-Pacific region were growing and economic coercion was “being employed as a tool of statecraft”.

The final 80 Australian troops in Afghanistan are due to return home by September a move Morrison said was in line with last year’s defence policy update, which called for the ADF to shift focus from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific.


Category: China, Taiwan

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