In Tokyo earlier this month, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer took part in the "two plus two" talks between the foreign and defense ministers of Japan and Australia.
Earlier, Downer said the region should use six-way talks as the foundation for a "Northeast Asian security mechanism" to deal with security issues such as North Korea's nuclear program and the Taiwan Strait.
He said that for Australia, "No region is more important to our future than North Asia." Although Downer did not mention Taiwan, it would be valuable for Taiwan to consider his statements.
First, the Taiwan Strait problem is much more critical than most Taiwanese imagine. Australia has consistently emphasized collective security, and while the Australian Defence Force is not particularly strong, it has always cooperated with the US military in maintaining a certain degree of combat readiness and training.
In international affairs, Australia has toed the US neocon "world police" line and invested considerable resources in preparing for and responding to regional conflicts that the US has entered, as well as potential military threats to the US, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.
The pace of China's military development in recent years has been astonishing, while Taiwan's military has stagnated compared with others in Northeast Asia.
Taiwan is investing little in arms, and the political focal point is domestic change. Consider that there has been an important election every year since 2004 and it is easy to see why cross-strait tensions and the change in China's posture receive less attention.
The focus on domestic politics has also affected policy, leading to the neglect of cross-strait issues. Two examples are the pan-blue camp's continued opposition to the arms procurement bill and the Democratic Progressive Party's plans to open up the country to Chinese tourism.
In this situation, the focal point has moved away from the Chinese military threat to Taiwan, thus marginalizing the issue. When Australia, a third party, makes this assessment, Taiwan must not turn a blind eye.
Second, we should consider the volatility of the region. North Korea's nuclear threat had been the hottest issue in East Asia, but since the agreement on Feb. 13, things have calmed down somewhat. Obviously North Korea does not intend to flatly oppose US and Japanese interests. The US also intends to form a security framework, asking each ally in the region to strengthen defenses to prevent a conflict from breaking out. Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), however, firmly resists the benefits of this policy.
Although Downer defended China, he was speaking about China in regard to Japan. In reality, the Australians believe that the Taiwan Strait is a place where violence may erupt. There is little danger over the Diaoyutais or the East China Sea, which concern Japan, because, as Downer said: "With the possible exception of Taiwan, China is not a country that is looking at expanding or acquiring territory."
He added: "China is not about exporting ideology or exporting a political system, with a possible exception of its relationship with Taiwan."
The latent meaning here is that Australia does not believe China is willing to unconditionally support North Korea.
If Taiwan fails to strengthen its military while unconditionally seeking conciliation with China, it will exclude itself from the US' Asia-Pacific strategy; this is what marginalization really means.
A new low point in Taiwan-US relations should not surprise us. Whether Taiwan will receive greater assistance or be marginalized depends on the determination of Taiwanese themselves.
Bill Chang is a doctoral candidate at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
Translated by Jason Cox
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