Australia has been warned it could suffer a “heavy attack” and had better “be prepared to sacrifice” in the latest blow-up over China’s aggression.
The head of China’s Global Times newspaper has explicitly threatened Australia, saying we will inevitably suffer a “heavy attack” if Australian forces come to the defence of Taiwan.
The Global Times, a state-affiliated tabloid, is published by the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, The People’s Daily. Hu Xijin is its editor-in-chief.
“If Australian troops come to fight in the Taiwan Straits, it is unimaginable that China won’t carry out a heavy attack on them and the Australian military facilities that support them,” he wrote on social media on Saturday night.
“So Australia (had) better be prepared to sacrifice for Taiwan island and the US.”
He ended the message with a cheerful thumbs up emoji.
The ominous warning appeared to be a response to remarks Defence Minister Peter Dutton made in an interview with The Australian, published on Friday.
During a conversation with senior writer Troy Bramston, Mr Dutton said China had been “very clear” about its intent “to go into Taiwan”.
He did not explicitly commit Australia to defend the island from a Chinese attack, but strongly implied we would help the United States in such an action.
“We need to make sure that there is a high level of preparedness, a greater sense of deterrence by our capability, and that is how we put our country in a position of strength,” he said.
“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?
“It would be inconceivable that we wouldn’t support the US in an action if the US chose to take that action. 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. I can’t conceive of those circumstances.”
China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province, and has vowed to “unify” it with the mainland. The territory’s democratically elected leaders say it’s a sovereign state. It has never been ruled by Communist China, and has been essentially independent for 60 years.
Officially, the US does not recognise Taiwan as a country, instead considering its status undetermined, but it is opposed to any attempt by China to force it into unification. It has sold defensive military equipment to Taiwan and established an “American Institute” – an embassy in all but name – on the island.
Late last month, President Joe Biden sparked something of a diplomatic incident when he said the US would step in to defend Taiwan if China decided to attack.
“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Mr Biden said in response to a direct question on the matter.
His remark was at odds with decades of US policy on Taiwan, which has long been based on “strategic ambiguity”, where it neither confirms nor denies it would defend the island.
The White House subsequently walked back his comment, but not before China took notice.
The country’s Foreign Ministery spokesman Wang Wenbin claimed Taiwan was under Chinese control, saying there was “no compromise on the issue”.
“No one should underestimate the strong determination, firm will and strong ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
Mr Biden is due to hold a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday.
The US President’s remark added to the already rising tensions between China and western powers over its intentions towards Taiwan. Australia is not exempt from the debate, and has in fact featured more heavily since signing up to the AUKUS security partnership.
In an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, former prime minister Paul Keating said Taiwan was “not a vital Australian interest” and we should avoid being dragged into a conflict over the island.
“We have no alliance with Taipei, none. There is no piece of paper sitting in Canberra which has an alliance with Taipei,” Mr Keating said.
“We do not recognise it as a sovereign state.”
He said Taiwan was “fundamentally a civil matter” for China.
This drew a formal response from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose spokeswoman told The Guardian China’s actions would not just affect Taipei.
“The crisis in the Taiwan Strait is by no means a domestic matter between Chinese, and the security of the Taiwan Strait involves the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region, but also the global peace and stability,” the spokeswoman said.
“A peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific region is in the interest of Australia, Taiwan and other countries.”
Meanwhile, in the pages of The Global Times, China’s state-affiliated media continued to talk tough.
“Reunification has been one of the most important national goals of the People’s Republic of China since its establishment in 1949. Reunification by force has always been one of the options,” one of the paper’s senior editors, Ding Gang, wrote in one such article on Wednesday.
“China is also well prepared for (whatever) kind of military support the US will give to Taiwan secessionists. China will never give up the option of reunification by force just because the US will assist in the defence of Taiwan.”
He said hopes for peaceful “reunification” were “dwindling”.
“Under such circumstances, the problem for the mainland is no longer about choosing between military actions or peaceful solutions. What it can do is prepare for reunification by force.”
He said the US was “doomed to drag itself into an unprecedented abyss of danger”.