Warning over ‘disturbing signals’ coming from China

·4-min read

There are "disturbing signals" emanating from China, suggesting the country could make a bold military move to reclaim Taiwan, as some international observers have worried.

Oriana Skylar Mastro, a member of the US Air Force and political scientist at Stanford University, is the latest voice to warn of potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

The researcher, who specialises in Chinese military and security policy, says those who believe heated conflict can't erupt should "think again".

In a piece in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, she argued China's leader Xi Jinping might be tiring of the tactics he has deployed to lure Taiwan into submission – namely economic inducements, coercion and leveraging its global power to make life hard for the island nation.

"As sharp as these tactics were, they stopped well short of military action. And although Chinese officials always maintained that they had a right to use force, that option seemed off the table," she wrote.

"In recent months, however, there have been disturbing signals that Beijing is reconsidering its peaceful approach and contemplating armed unification."

China has increased activity around the Taiwan Strait. Source: Getty
China has increased activity around the Taiwan Strait. Source: Getty

China has been ramping up its menacing military behaviour in the Taiwan Strait in recent months, increasing tensions as countries including Australia watch on.

"Chinese President Xi Jinping has made clear his ambition to resolve the Taiwan issue, [and has] grown markedly more aggressive ... He has also fanned the flames of Chinese nationalism and allowed discussion of a forceful takeover of Taiwan to creep into the mainstream of the Chinese Communist Party," Ms Mastro wrote.

Senior Chinese officials have made repeated public pronouncements about the country's right to use military force to reclaim the democratic country of 23 million people.

A similar vow by Xi Jinping has underpinned increased speculation in recent years about the potential of conflict erupting over Taiwan, with Australian officials and former Defence Minister Christopher Pyne among those to voice their concern of war.

“The prospect of conflict is alive and well over Taiwan,” Professor John Blaxland from the ANU College of Asia & the Pacific told Yahoo News Australia in August.

And what he called a "wild card" issue threatens to drag Australia into a dangerous situation.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute Executive Director Peter Jennings also fears Australia will have nowhere to hide if such a conflict comes to pass.

"This is something we won't be able to escape it seems to me," he told Sky News in April.

"China has certainly been ramping up its military activities around Taiwan and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow that down."

The US would be expected to act if China makes a move on Taiwan.

"You better believe the United States will be expecting the help of its two key allies in the region – Japan and Australia – to play a role in the defence of Taiwan," Mr Jennings said.

Labor grills government on PM's Taiwan faux pas

On Friday, the Opposition grilled the government on Prime Minister Scott Morrison's mischaracterisation on Australia's policy towards Taiwan.

Labor questioned why Mr Morrison refused to admit he was wrong after twice mistaking Australia's policy towards Taiwan for the government's position on Hong Kong.

The prime minister last month referred to a "one country, two systems" approach towards Taiwan in two interviews.

In the second appearance, he denied making a mistake despite his description matching Australia's stance on Hong Kong. However the government was forced to issue a clarification confirming Australia's position was unchanged.

Mr Morrison refused to admit fault on the error. Source: Getty
Mr Morrison refused to admit fault on the error. Source: Getty

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong wants to know why he didn't front up and admit the error.

"What I don't understand is why he then lied about it," she told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Friday.

"Why doesn't he just say 'yes I misspoke'? He used the wrong phrase."

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia's "one China" policy on Taiwan had not changed.

"The prime minister's comments on one country, two systems are a reference to Hong Kong," she said.

"I don't agree it's appropriate to say the prime minister lied. The government's position is clear."

with AAP

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