Taiwan: Rising stakes for Australia

America’s policy of “strategic ambiguity” is being hotly contested, but multilateralism might offer a fresh approach.

The Interpreter
Date: 2 Nov 2020
By: Jade Guan Wen-Ti Sung

TAIWAN STRAIT – 29 OCTOBER, 2018: (SOUTH AFRICA OUT) The Strait of Taiwan, located between the coast of southeast China and Taiwan. (Photo by Gallo Images / Orbital Horizon/Copernicus Sentinel Data 2019)

The Taiwan Strait is a key hotspot in the intensifying US-China rivalry, where the two superpowers’ spheres of influence overlap. Beijing claims the area as a uncompromisable “core interest” of sovereignty and territorial integrity, while the US seeks to maintain its close economic, political and security relationship with Taiwan.

Whether it likes it or not, Australia is a major stakeholder in any future conflict arising around Taiwan. As an ANZUS treaty ally, Australia is at risk of being dragged into events. Yet as a middle power, Australia has the potential wherewithal to mediate and prevent the fighting.

With so much to lose and enough ability to make a difference, it is imperative that Australia understand what is at stake.

This year has proven to be one of reorientation in Washington-Taipei-Beijing trilateral relations. The US has significantly lifted protocol restrictions on official exchanges with Taiwan. It has upgraded the rank of State Department officials allowed to visit Taiwan, specifically from Deputy Assistant Secretary level to Under Secretary level, and possibly even higher in the future.

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