(Image: Li Gang)

Now that Beijing has imposed its harsh new National Security Laws on Hong Kong, the next big question is if — or when — will Xi Jinping make his move on Taiwan?

With so-called Taiwanese “reunification” with the mainland is at the very top of the Chinese Communist Party’s colonising wishlist, that question then begs one for Australia: would we join a US-backed defence of Taiwan?

Beijing has long held out the offer to Taiwan of “reunification” in the shape of the “one country, two systems” formula it sold to the United Kingdom over Hong Kong. It promised Hong Kong could keep its Common Law legal system, relative political independence and civil rights from the 1997 handover for 50 years.

Both sides of politics in Taiwan, including the more mainland-friendly Kuomintang (KMT), have rejected the formula.

Most recently, Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, from the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party and who was reelected for a second term in January, said that “both sides have a duty to find a way to coexist over the long term and prevent the intensification of antagonism and differences”.

“We will not accept the Beijing authorities’ use of ‘one country, two systems’ to downgrade Taiwan and undermine the cross-strait status quo. We stand fast by this principle,” Tsai said.

Taiwan is an island with  a long history of colonisation by the Dutch, Japanese and Manchu Qing dynasty. It’s where Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists (KMT) fled after they lost the 1945-49 civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists. But the Chinese Communist Party has never controlled the island that was, prior to the end of World War II, controlled by Japan since 1895.

Unlike the mainland, the Taiwanese feel quite favourable to Japan, which has lent investment and support in the decades since the war. Japanese food and culture play an integral role in the country.

The People’s Republic of China has long rattled its sabre over Taiwan and reportedly has about 2000 missiles trained on the island. Taiwan, whose population of 24 million is similar to Australia’s, has a substantial armed force of 290,000 people (compared with Australia’s 85,000).

The US has an agreement to sell arms to Taiwan and this has been stepped up under Trump. Only three weeks ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told China that arms sales to Taiwan are appropriate and consistent with the practices of other US administrations.

And US hawks are seen to be ramping up support for diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.

“Frankly, I think if you are not prepared to recognise a freely elected representative government in a democratic country like Taiwan, then what is the purpose of diplomatic recognition to begin with?” former national security adviser John Bolton said.

While there are questions over just how committed the US is to Taiwan’s defence, the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act says “any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, [is] a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area”, and that it is the policy of the US “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardise the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan”.

Australia has no such agreement, yet it has a tight defence treaty with the US and has a long history of doing its bidding. It is drawing ever closer to another US ally, Japan, as evidenced by Scott Morrison’s video summit with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe yesterday where a range of defence and related issues were discussed.

China was carefully avoided by name, while Taiwan and Hong Kong appeared to be the elephants in the room. Still, the lengthy communique issued following the meeting said: 

The leaders reconfirmed their strong opposition to any coercive or unilateral actions that could alter the status quo or increase tensions in the East and South China Seas. They expressed serious concern about recent negative developments in the South China Sea, including the continuing militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous and coercive use of coast guard vessels and ‘maritime militia’, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities, in particular under the current circumstances where regional cooperation has become more important due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morrison yesterday showed he is only semi-serious about helping the people of Hong Kong, all of whom are potential political refugees in the face of Beijing’s effective “second handover” of June 30.

Despite the howling-by-numbers from China, this does not portend well for any Australian support of Taiwan in a fight against Chinese encroachment.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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