Taiwan does not have any formal defense ties with Australia, but as China’s military expands its power and presence in the South Pacific and threatens the Indo-Pacific region, there might soon be a need for bilateral strategic security cooperation between the two nations as an additional tool to uphold regional security and stability.
In an article titled “War-gaming tomorrow: ‘It’s possible this will end in an all-out invasion,’” published in the Weekend Australian newspaper on Sept. 11, Australian Senator Jim Molan, a retired major general in the Australian Army, outlined a potential scenario for Australia in the post-Afghanistan era.
“China has one strategic aim: to be dominant, first in the region and then perhaps in the world,” Molan wrote, later adding: “The US is the target. The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] objective is to reduce US power, and Taiwan should be seen as the means.”
“Taiwan may be used by China to entice US naval forces to enter an area of great vulnerability. China’s aim then would be to cause the US such heavy casualties that it has to withdraw from the western Pacific,” he wrote.
In other words, as Molan wrote, China’s strategy is to use a conflict in the Taiwan Strait to expel the US military from the Western Pacific.
In the past few years, the Australian government has sought to assimilate itself into the ASEAN alliance structure over regional security issues, and placed increased importance on the situation in the Taiwan Strait. Australia is on the front line of China’s military rise and sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea, and Canberra has therefore sought a long-term bilateral alliance with Washington.
A 2016 Australian Department of Defence white paper identified the strategic confrontation between the US and China as an important factor in the security of the Asia-Pacific region, adding that the US is Australia’s most important strategic partner.
A US Marine Corps contingent has since 2012 been stationed in Darwin, conducting exercises and training with the Australian Defence Force. In 2014, it was announced that the size of the deployment would increase to 1,150 marines, but the number has since risen to 2,500.
Australian Minister for Defence Peter Dutton told the Australian Broadcasting Corp in an April 24 interview that conflict with China over Taiwan “should not be discounted,” adding that Australia would make sure that “we continue to be a good neighbor in the region and that we work with our partners and with our allies. Nobody wants to see conflict.”
Dutton also said that China’s designs over Taiwan were increasingly apparent, and that the time had come for Australia’s military to shift its center of gravity toward neighboring regions.
A May 6 Australian Financial Review opinion article, titled “Australia draws the China line at Taiwan,” discussed the elevated tensions in the Taiwan Strait, saying that in the event of armed conflict, Australia and New Zealand might be obliged to at least provide tacit support to the US as required under the 1951 Australia, New Zealand, US Security Treaty.
To prevent Beijing from destroying the “status quo” in the Indo-Pacific region and invading Taiwan, Australia’s defense strategy is focused on augmenting its military force.
Australia’s 2020 Defense Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan say that in the coming decade Australia would increase defense spending by A$270 billion (US$196 billion at the current exchange rate).
Canberra has also taken concrete strategic action to check China’s expansion, including holding a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue meeting with the US, Japan and India in March, a two-plus-two meeting with Japan’s foreign and defense ministers in June, and this month’s unveiling of a trilateral security partnership with the UK and the US, called “AUKUS,” the first initiative of which is to help Australia develop a nuclear-powered submarine capability.
Australia and Taiwan share many of the same values: democracy, liberty, the rule of law and protection of human rights, as well as a healthy bilateral trade relationship. With Canberra paying closer attention to the China threat and the situation in the Taiwan Strait, Taipei should make full use of this strategic opportunity.
The military exchange mechanism between the US and Taiwan could provide an opportunity for Taipei to push for closer security cooperation with Canberra, including in the important areas of intelligence sharing, think tanks, cybersecurity and humanitarian assistance.
Yao Chung-yuan is a professor and former deputy director of the Ministry of National Defense’s strategic planning department.
Translated by Edward Jones
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