HomeTaiwan, China war: Penny Wong accuses Scott Morrison of ‘dangerous election tactic’

Taiwan, China war: Penny Wong accuses Scott Morrison of ‘dangerous election tactic’

Scott Morrison has been accused by Labor of embarking on “the most dangerous election tactic in Australian history” with his China war talk.

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman says Scott Morrison is embarking on “the most dangerous election tactic in Australian history” by talking up the prospect of war with China over Taiwan.

Penny Wong will make the comments in a speech on Tuesday to the Australian National University, where she will accuse the Prime Minister of “desperately playing politics on China whenever he’s in trouble” and Defence Minister Peter Dutton of straying from longstanding bipartisan policy on Taiwan, according to a preview of her remarks provided to The Guardian.

“Amping up the prospect of war against a superpower is the most dangerous election tactic in Australian history – a tactic employed by irresponsible politicians who are desperate to hang on to power at any cost,” Ms Wong will reportedly say in the wide-ranging foreign policy speech.

Ms Wong will say Australia needs to restore its “reputation for being straight shooters who pull our weight” amid a time of “great uncertainty” with challenges including “rising nationalism, fraying multilateralism, great power competition, emerging Covid strains, an ever-warming planet – and a more assertive China”.

She will also say Mr Dutton – who last month said it was “inconceivable” that Australia would not join the United States in a conflict with China – is doing the people of Taiwan “no favours by amplifying Beijing’s fatalism” about the limited options available.

Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by China, which views the self-governing democratic island of 24 million people as a rogue province to be seized one day, by force if necessary.

In the United States, Democratic and Republican administrations have long held to a policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether America would support Taiwan in a war with China, while Australia’s bipartisan position has been to deter unilateral changes to the status quo.

Ms Wong will say Mr Dutton’s comments in recent months have been “wildly out of step” with this strategy.

“Surely the real question is not, as he suggests, whether we declare our intentions, but why the Defence Minister is amping up war, rather than working to maintain longstanding policy to preserve the status quo – as advocated by the Taiwanese leader, Tsai Ing-wen,” she will say.

Ms Wong will accuse the Defence Minister of playing into Beijing’s hands, highlighting the observation by the Lowy Institute’s Natasha Kassam that China has long pushed the narrative that “the only options available to Taiwan are unification or war”.

She will describe Mr Dutton’s Taiwan comments as “the worst in a litany of cases of the Morrison-Joyce government seeking to use foreign policy and national security for political advantage”.

In parliament on Monday, Mr Dutton accused Labor of being “weak on national security” and said “the reality is that it doesn’t get any weaker” than Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.

It comes after former Labor prime minister Paul Keating last week slammed the Morrison government’s position on Taiwan in a speech to the National Press Club, describing eight proposed nuclear submarines under the AUKUS deal as like “throwing a handful of toothpicks at the mountain”.

Mr Keating said the Morrison government was wrongly “trying to find our security from Asia, rather than in Asia”.

He talked up the inevitability of China’s rise and called for Australia to return to a “sensible relationship” with its largest trading partner, while denying Taiwan’s right to exist.

“Taiwan is not a vital Australian interest,” he said.

“We have no alliance with Taipei, none. There is no document you can find. We do not recognise it as a sovereign state, right? And under ANZUS, ANZUS commits us to consult in the event of an attack on US forces, but not by US forces.

“Which means Australia should not be drawn in my view into a military engagement over Taiwan, US sponsored or otherwise.”

Labor later sought to distance itself from Mr Keating’s comments, after the Prime Minister accused Mr Albanese of backing the Chinese government.

Deputy Opposition leader Richard Marles told the Nine Network that Mr Keating’s views were not in line with that of Labor’s contemporary stance.

“Paul Keating is obviously entitled to his view, [but] Labor have made it completely clear the challenges that China represents,” Mr Marles said.

“Paul Keating can speak for himself. Labor’s position [is] that China represents significant challenges … we could not have been clearer. I don’t share the same views as Paul Keating and that’s clear.”

Earlier this year, Ms Wong cited Mr Keating’s words while calling for a reality check in Australia’s relationship with China.

Writing in The Australian Financial Review to mark the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, and the 50th anniversary of then opposition leader Gough Whitlam’s visit to Beijing, Ms Wong said Australia needed an “honest assessments of our interests” in the region.

“Until [Whitlam’s 1971 visit], the White Australia policy still lingered in our outlook and sullied our reputation,” she said.

“Whitlam’s China adviser – and Australia’s first ambassador to Beijing – Stephen FitzGerald observes that our most intense post-war engagements in the region had been fighting other countries’ wars against Asians.”

Ms Wong said Australia had to face “the reality that while much of our history is in Europe, our home and our future are in the Indo-Pacific”.

“And it’s about recognising – as one of Whitlam’s successors, Paul Keating, said – that we need to find our security in Asia, not from Asia,” she said.

Ms Wong and Mr Morrison have been approached for comment.

Australia is due to head to the polls again some time before May next year.

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