'Inconceivable': Peter Dutton warns of major China move

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Peter Dutton has said it would be "inconceivable" for Australia to not join the US in military action against China if the latter decided to reclaim Taiwan.

In an interview with The Australian, the Defence Minister said it was clear China intended on invading Taiwan and said it was important Australia has a "high level of preparedness".

China regards Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by military force if necessary. 

The sides split amid civil war in 1949 and, following a brief period of rapprochement, relations have grown increasingly tense under Taiwan's independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen.

Tanks are deployed during a shore defence operation as part of a military exercise simulating the defence against the intrusion of Chinese military. Source: Getty Images
Tanks are deployed during a shore defence operation as part of a military exercise simulating the defence against the intrusion of Chinese military. Source: Getty Images

Mr Dutton acknowledged the thought of Australia could compete with China was "nonsense", given the country spends 10 times more on defence than Australia.

"China is an economic and military superpower. They spend 10 times a year more than what we spend on our defence budget and every 18 months they produce, on a tonnage rate, more by way of military assets than the whole Royal Navy has in her fleet, so the thought that we could compete with China is of course a nonsense. That’s not the question before us; the question is: would we join with the US?" he said.

The US retains strong informal political and military relations with Taiwan, despite switching diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Mr Dutton was certain Australia would support the US if it decided to defend Taiwan against reunification with China.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, October 28, 2021.
Minister for Defence Peter Dutton said it would be "inconceivable" Australia would not join forces with the US to prevent the reunification of Taiwan. Source: AAP

"It would be inconceivable that we wouldn’t support the US in an action if the US chose to take that action," he said.

"And, again, I think we should be very frank and honest about that, look at all of the facts and circumstances without pre-committing, and maybe there are circumstances where we wouldn’t take up that option, (but) I can’t conceive of those ­circumstances.”

Earlier this year, just after Mr Dutton took over the defence portfolio, following a cabinet reshuffle, he said China was clear about their goal with Taiwan.

However, at the time he said Australia would work to diffuse the scenario.

"For us we want to make sure we continue to be a good neighbour in the region, that we work with our partners and with our allies and nobody wants to see conflict between China and Taiwan or anywhere else," he told ABC's Insiders in April.

China recently showcased its military force while a US congressional delegation visited Taiwan by carrying out military exercises near the island.

The drills in the area of the Taiwan Strait are a "necessary measure to safeguard national sovereignty", China's Defence Ministry said in the announcement on Tuesday that gave no details on the timing, participants and location of the exercises.

It said the "joint war preparedness patrol" by the Eastern Theatre Command was prompted by the "seriously incorrect words and actions of relevant countries over the issue of Taiwan" and the actions of those advocating the self-governing island's independence.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers his speech at the sixth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.
Chinese forces have been conducting exercises near Taiwan. Source: AP

The US has strong but informal relations with Taiwan, and tensions have been rising between the US and China over several issues including Hong Kong, the South China Sea, the coronavirus pandemic and trade.

A Chinese Defence Ministry statement from an unidentified spokesperson strongly condemned the visit, saying "no one should underestimate the firm determination of the People's Liberation Army to safeguard the Chinese people's national sovereignty and territorial integrity".

During China's National Day weekend in early October, China dispatched 149 military aircraft southwest of Taiwan in strike group formations, causing Taiwan to scramble aircraft and activate its air defence missile systems. 

Taiwan's Defence Ministry said this week such tactics were aimed at wearing down the island's defences and degrading morale.

With The Associated Press

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