Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has laid out a bleak vision for Australia's region in the next five years, saying if China is allowed to make a move on Taiwan, Australia could be embroiled in a conflict at a "magnitude not seen since the Second World War".
Speaking at the Australian National University on Monday night, Mr Rudd claimed the next five years "will very much shape and arguably determine the long-term stability of the Indo-Pacific region".
If the United States and its allies like Australia are unable to deter China from taking military action to take control of Taiwan, there is a real danger of a war unfolding, even "by accident".
"If we fail to navigate the next five years carefully, there is a grave risk that by the late 20s and the early 30s, we could well find ourselves on the cusp of armed conflict," he said.
"It is easy to use the term 'armed conflict' but when we begin to imagine the scope of a possible war between China and the United States over Taiwan, the strategic, economic and human cost of such a conflagration is likely to be an order of magnitude not seen since the Second World War," the former PM warned.
Mr Rudd has long taken an intense interest in China and carried out post-doctoral research at Oxford University on the country's leader Xi Jinping. He welcomed the recent meeting between Xi and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese saying it stopped the "free fall" in the bilateral relationship.
However despite optimism surrounding Xi's meeting with western leaders at the G20 summit last week, Mr Rudd warned China has only hardened its stance on reclaiming Taiwan.
"It would be foolish to conclude, at least from the Chinese perspective, that Xi has shelved his aspiration to retake Taiwan," he said in his address. "Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, his language on Taiwan in the official readout from the Bali Summit is arguably more hardline than before.
"The only way to avert medium-to-long-term conflict is for there to be an effective US, allied and Taiwanese deterrence: militarily, technologically, financially, economically and, of course, in foreign policy and political terms as well."
Mr Rudd has argued for a framework for "strategic competition" which would govern the relationship, allowing for managed competition with "guardrails" placed on the actions of the US and China in the context of the two superpowers' relationship.
Mr Rudd has repeatedly warned of conflict on the horizon over Taiwan, in March saying that if conflict between the US and China broke out in the region, China would win "most of the time".
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