Chapter 7 - Taiwan
is part of the sacred territory of the People's Republic of China.
It is the lofty duty of the entire Chinese people, including our compatriots in
accomplish the great task of reunifying the motherland.
uncertain political status represents one of Australia's
foremost obstacles to maintaining good relations with both China
and the U.S.
perspective, reunification with Taiwan
represents a key foreign policy goal. Evidence received during the inquiry generally
emphasised the centrality of the unresolved Taiwan
issue to China's
identity and relations with the rest of the world. According to Professor
emeritus professor of Asian Studies at the University
Taiwan and national
reunification is at the heart of domestic policy and national identity. But
because any country that recognises the [PRC] ipso facto also adopts the one China
policy that Taiwan
is a province of China,
Taiwan has also
become an issue in its foreign policy.
At times, declarations from the U.S. that its military
would defend Taiwan in the event of an attack has placed Australia's dual
commitment to its strategic alliance with the United States, and its expanding
trade relationship with China, under strain.
As explored further in this chapter, balancing these two foreign policy
objectives would become increasingly difficult for Australia
if relations across the Taiwan Strait deteriorate in the
This chapter discusses the nature of prevailing cross-strait
relations, the role of the United States
in facilitating a peaceful resolution to the issue and, in this context, the
implications of Australia's
strategic alliance with the U.S.
Taiwan's present political status has emerged from the
Chinese civil war in the 1940s when the Communist Party drove the ruling
Kuomintang (KMT) from power on mainland China, thereafter restricting them to
control of Taiwan—which has continued to be known as the Republic of China
(ROC). From their defeat and withdrawal in 1949 until the early 1990s, the KMT
government maintained that the ROC was the legitimate government for all of China.
However, political and social change in Taiwan,
democratisation and the reality of the widespread diplomatic recognition of the
People's Republic of China
(PRC) led the KMT to abandon this position in 1991. For its part, the PRC
maintains the position that Chinese sovereignty is indivisible; Taiwan
is part of its sovereign territory and the reunification of Taiwan
and mainland China
remains the ultimate goal.
Beginning in the early 1970s, most countries have
chosen to recognise the PRC as the legitimate government of China.
In 1971, the United Nations voted to transfer the seat held by the ROC to the
PRC and endorsed the PRC's one-China policy.
This acknowledges that Taiwan
is a province of the PRC and cannot attain the status of a national government.
afforded the PRC official recognition in 1978. Only 26 countries, mostly in Africa,
Latin America and the Pacific, today recognise the ROC
as the official government of China.
The Australian government officially recognised the PRC
as the sole legal government of China
in the Joint Communique of 21
December 1972, a position that has retained bipartisan political support
since then. It stated that:
The Australian Government recognises the Government of the
People's Republic of China
as the sole legal Government of China, acknowledging the position of the
Chinese Government that Taiwan
is a province of the People's Republic of China.
In response to Taiwan's changing political status, the
U.S. Congress passed the Taiwan Relations
Act in April 1979, providing for the U.S.' non-diplomatic relations with
Taiwan. Under this legislation, the U.S.
government is authorised to provide Taiwan
with weapons of a defensive character. The Act does not, however, obligate the U.S.
to defend Taiwan.
The Taiwanese government no longer claims to govern all
of China but
maintains a somewhat ambiguous position on its own political identity. Taiwan
does not accept that the PRC is Taiwan's
legitimate government, but nor does it assert its formal independence from China.
Instead, Taiwan has adopted a status of de
facto independence from China; an autonomous, democratic administration
that rejects China's right to coercively alter the existing situation by
enforcing its reunification with mainland China.
People and trade: close cross-strait ties
Despite their political differences, China
and Taiwan still
have close people-to-people ties and continue to deepen their economic
relationship. In their submission to this inquiry, Reg Little and James Flowers
also emphasised the importance of the person-to-person Taiwanese–Chinese
The divisions that feature so loudly in the Western press rarely
seem relevant when Chinese and Taiwanese mix in economic or cultural
environments. Indeed, such divisions seem to belong to another world, where
information is manipulated in ideological terms solely to maintain an
appearance that remains relevant to little more than American foreign policy
and Taiwanese domestic politics, although it retains the potential for damaging
This close cultural relationship between the people of China
and Taiwan is
reflected in the economic ties between them. In the past decade, China's
increasing participation in the global economy has led to the development of very
close financial and economic ties across the Taiwan Strait,
even where attention has been focussed on their differences. Although exact
trade figures are difficult to acquire—most trade passes through Hong
Kong or other commercial centres—China
and Taiwan are
becoming increasingly economically interdependent, despite the absence of
direct commercial trading links.
According to the Taiwanese Bureau of Foreign Trade, China
largest export market (in excess of US$50 billion) in 2004 and the third
largest source of imports. Only Japan
share of total trade volume with Taiwan,
which was 15 per cent.
Furthermore, a U.S. Congressional Research Service report has indicated that
Taiwanese businesses' total investment in China
stands between US$70–100 billion, around half all Taiwanese overseas
investment. The report also noted that about one million Taiwanese businessmen
and their families live in China.
The committee notes that in spite of their diverging
attitudes on political sovereignty, China
and Taiwan have
shown restraint, even though tensions have ebbed and flowed in recent years.
Neither has behaved recklessly in seeking to force a resolution to Taiwan's
status, instead demonstrating preparedness—albeit reluctantly at times—to
adhere to the status quo until a diplomatic solution can be reached.
The cross-strait status quo
Both the U.S.
support a continuance of what is regularly referred to as the cross-strait
'status quo' until a peaceful resolution can be found. Essentially, the status
quo refers to a bundle of commitments between China,
Taiwan and the U.S.
to ensure peaceful relations across the Taiwan Strait.
Central to this status quo is China's
undertaking to pursue reunification peacefully and Taiwan's
acceptance of its present, uncertain political status. Helping to sustain it has been the U.S.'
overwhelming military capabilities and its policy of strategic ambiguity.
policy of strategic ambiguity aims to provide a deterrent to both sides from
upsetting the uneasy peace prevailing across the strait. On one hand, the U.S.
maintains its adherence to the one-China policy and openly discourages the
Taiwanese from declaring political independence (with the implication that
recklessly declaring independence would jeopardise U.S.
military support in the event of conflict). On the other, the U.S.
maintains substantial (albeit unofficial) links with Taiwan
and provides arms in accordance with the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act.
Critically, the U.S.'
strategically ambiguous stance operates as a deterrent to both parties to
engage in action that will potentially threaten the status quo, these being:
formally moving towards declaring its independence; and/or
instigating military action against Taiwan
to force reunification.
has described the rationale for strategic ambiguity:
[The] case for the United States
retaining strategic ambiguity rests on the idea that this posture enables it
simultaneously to deter each of two strategic actors from unilaterally pursuing
their mutually exclusive maximal objectives: independence in the case of Taiwan
and reunification in the case of the PRC.
Although the U.S.'
policy of strategic ambiguity has helped maintain the status quo, recent events
have demonstrated that the arrangement remains a tenuous one. It is dependent
on the three participants persevering with an arrangement that is, in the
longer term, less than satisfactory to all.
Difficulties facing the status quo
Peace over the Taiwan Strait was
most immediately threatened during 1995–1996 in the months preceding Taiwan's
first direct presidential election. Reportedly interpreting this event as the
Taiwanese damaging future reunification prospects by forging its own political
identity, from July 1995 the PLA conducted a series of missile 'tests' directed
into the sea off Taiwan's two main ports. In March 1996, the U.S.
responded by positioning two aircraft carrier groups adjacent to the Taiwan
Strait. The standoff
dissipated after the election, but it indicated that Taiwan's
ongoing process of democratisation could place significant strain on the status
evolving political environment
While direct military confrontation has not been a
characteristic of recent cross-strait tensions, a critical element in peaceful cross-strait
relations remains Taiwan's
domestic political developments. Given its economic imperatives, China
is unlikely to engage militarily with Taiwan
(and potentially the U.S.)
unless provoked by moves by Taiwan
to declare its own independence. Taiwan's
democratisation and the rise of a domestic political movement for independence
have generated the political environment in which this has become a
The election of the Taiwanese Democratic Progressive
Party (DPP) in December 2000 was highly significant in this respect. The DPP
was established on a platform of democratic reform and the advancement of a
distinct identity for Taiwan,
generating concerns that Taiwan
may seek to declare independence from the PRC. In March 2004, DPP leader President
narrowly retained power.
For its part, the Taiwanese government has not moved to
exert formal independence and thus abandon the status quo. Nonetheless, there
has been some strong rhetoric from President Chen
Shui-bian on Taiwan's
The sovereignty of the Republic of China is vested with the 23
million people of Taiwan.
The Republic of China is Taiwan
and Taiwan is
the Republic of China. This is an indisputable fact.
The Taiwanese government also unsettled the status quo
when it moved to hold a referendum on Taiwan's
constitutional status. The referendum placed two issues of national security
defence capabilities and cross-strait negotiations before the people. In
support of this 'peace' referendum', the President stated that the aim was to
'realize the principle of popular sovereignty and prevent China
from unilaterally changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait
through a military offensive against Taiwan'. The language was inflammatory and
indicates the tension and potential for serious flare-ups in the relationship:
denies the sovereignty of our nation and conspires to force us to accept the
so-called 'one China'
and 'one country, two systems' formulae. In recent years, it has continuously
increased the deployment of missiles against Taiwan
and repeatedly threatened us by refusing to renounce the use of force against Taiwan'.
According to Professor
specialist in the School of Pacific
and Asian Studies at the Australian National University (ANU):
What Chen was trying to
do was to change the One China policy, basically, by separating the
constitution of Taiwan from the constitution of China, and doing it with a
referendum only of Taiwanese, which would have provided the basis for saying,
‘We are legally independent.’ The Americans eventually woke up to that and said, ‘That’s
not on,’ and they have been very firm.
Whatever the intentions, provocative moves by either Taiwan
against the other have the potential to escalate tensions. This increases the
risk that one side may miscalculate or misjudge the situation, drawing both
closer to the brink of conflict.
is clearly uneasy about the direction of Taiwan's
political momentum. The Embassy of the PRC's submission stated that:
Since 2000, Taiwan
authorities under Chen Shui-bian
have recklessly challenged the status quo that both sides of the Straits belong
to one and the same China...
The submission continued:
The Chinese people and the Chinese government are resolutely
against 'Taiwan Independence' and there will not be an iota of hesitation
ambiguity and concession on this significant issue [of principle].
On 14 March
2005, the Chinese authorities sought to demonstrate their
sovereignty over Taiwan
when the National People's Congress passed China's
Anti-Seccession law (see paragraph 6.22). This stated the PRC's objective of
achieving peaceful reunification with Taiwan
and, significantly, did not impose deadlines for this action. It should be
noted, however, that the law reserved the right to use non-peaceful means as a
last resort to preserve China's territorial integrity and sovereignty. This
reference caused considerable consternation in Taiwan
and the U.S.,
with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice stating that it was unhelpful for China
to be unilaterally raising tensions.
The Australian government has indicated that although
the law did not materially change the status quo, it was unnecessarily
provocative. The Department of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (DFAT)
commented to the committee that:
...our assessment was that overall the law largely restated the
longstanding elements of China's
policy on cross-strait issues...
Nevertheless, overall we did feel it would have been better had
China not proceeded with the law and we were very disappointed by the reference
to the use of non-peaceful means and other measures, even though they were
termed to be a last resort should efforts towards a peaceful settlement be
told the committee that the law did not, however, reflect a more
confrontational approach from China:
Beijing is being
much more concerned about maintaining the status quo than it is about changing
the situation. It feels that the antiseccession law has put a clear marker in
the sand and that it can now afford to try to do things which might be helpful.
present accumulation of missiles directed across the Taiwan Strait, he argued:
It seems to me that China
is now satisfied that it is deterring Taiwan
and that that is all it needs to do. It does not necessarily want it back in
any great hurry. It wants the status quo maintained under deterrence.
Nonetheless, an important element of the strain on the
status quo has been China's
military build-up in recent years (discussed at length in Chapter 6). Although
a unilateral attack upon Taiwan seems unlikely in the present climate, China's
increasing military capabilities risk precipitating further mistrust on the
part of Taiwan and the U.S., in turn threatening to unsettle the U.S.' policy
of strategic ambiguity and undermining the status quo. In evidence to the
committee, Professor Bruce
Jacobs, Professor of Asian Languages and
Studies at Monash University,
We should bear in mind
that the only party threatening war in the Taiwan Strait is China. It is China which has 700 missiles pointed at Taiwan. It is China that is spending a fortune to build up its
military might. Taiwan, on the other hand, has reduced its defence expenditures.
U.S. strategic ambiguity
in the environment of the standoff between China and Taiwan that the U.S. seeks to retain a strategically ambiguous
position. While neither China nor Taiwan is wholeheartedly satisfied with the
present arrangement, and no peaceful resolution appears imminent, it is a
challenge for the U.S. to remain ambiguous in the midst of heightened tension across the Taiwan Strait.
the support of allies such as Australia, the U.S. has continued to follow broadly the path of
strategic ambiguity whenever an escalation in tension arises. In spite of
unhelpful rhetoric from both sides, the U.S. has maintained its support for the one China policy, while continuing to provide arms
to, and maintain close relations with, Taiwan.
statements speculating on military intervention in the event of conflict over
the Taiwan Strait tested the 'ambiguity' of the U.S.' position. An obvious and notable aspect of
strategic ambiguity, as outlined above in paragraph 7.14, has been the absence
of a commitment on the circumstances under which the U.S.' military power might be employed to
protect Taiwan. Thus, the Taiwanese leadership contemplates that a conflict recklessly
provoked may not attract assistance. Similarly, China is discouraged from unilaterally
'reunifying' Taiwan with the mainland, aware of the capabilities of the U.S. military.
In an interview to mark his first hundred days in
office, U.S. President George W.
Bush stated in April 2001 that the U.S.
would do 'whatever it took' to defend Taiwan
in the event of a Chinese attack. Professor
Jacobs commented to the committee that President
Bush was the first U.S.
leader to make the promise that they would defend Taiwan
if attacked by China.
has also criticised the extent of the U.S.'
support for Taiwan
and the mixed messages inherent in their strategic ambiguity:
The United States
has on many occasions reaffirmed adherence to the one China
policy, observance of the three joint communiqus and opposition to 'Taiwan
independence'. However, it continues to increase, quantitatively and
qualitatively, its arms sales to Taiwan,
sending a wrong signal to the Taiwan
authorities. The U.S.
action does not serve a stable situation across the Taiwan Straits.
Despite this, the U.S.
has continued to support China's
sovereignty over Taiwan
and the central tenets of the status quo remain. Indeed, the most recent
comments by the U.S. Secretary of State, Dr
indicate that the U.S.
remains firm in its support of the one-China policy and that it is prepared to
work with China
and Taiwan to
ensure that neither acts to upset the status quo:
We've been very clear with China
and Taiwan that
we don't expect anyone to try and [s]train the status quo unilaterally. From
time to time, we've had to say to Taiwan
that it has engaged in behaviour that is problematic for stability. From time
to time, we've had to say to China,
don't threaten with missile batteries that look as if they are aimed at Taiwan.
But I think most would tell you that the US
has been a kind of upright anchor in this policy. We've kept to our principles,
but we've also recognised our responsibility to help the Chinese and Taiwan
avoid any conflict, which would be in no-one's interests - China,
Taiwan or the
Can the status quo be sustained?
an immediate threat of military conflict across the strait appears unlikely,
strong rhetoric from both China and Taiwan has strained the status quo. Taiwan's demonstration of its political autonomy,
as well as China's continued assertions that anything other than reunification remains
unacceptable, leaves the prospect of peacefully resolving Taiwan's status a long-term proposition.
Professor James Cotton of the Australian Defence Force Academy told the committee that the Chinese
government could not afford to yield on the issue of reunification:
...if they were seen to
fail regarding this issue, their credibility as a national government would be
threatened completely, so it is the one issue where very little compromise is
The lack of a
foreseeable solution may be compounded by an emerging tendency for Taiwanese people
to regard themselves as distinct, highlighted by their changing attitudes to
national identity. In evidence to the committee, Professor Jacobs
highlighted that over the past thirteen years surveys indicated that the
proportion of Taiwanese who identified themselves as only 'Taiwanese' had
increased from 17 to over 40 per cent. Alternatively, those who identified
themselves as being just 'Chinese' dropped from 26 to six per cent. The
remainder, Jacobs said, identified themselves as both Chinese
committee does note, however, the countervailing effects of cross-strait
people-to-people ties and the increasingly close economic relations, as
discussed in paragraphs 7.9–7.11.
The passage of time also makes the United
States' delicate strategic and diplomatic
balancing act more challenging in the face of impatience across the Taiwan
Strait. One of the major problems with the U.S.'
support for the one-China policy within the framework of strategic ambiguity is
its inherent contradiction. If Taiwan
is recognised as a province of China,
then any opposition to China's
use of force over Taiwan
can be interpreted as a challenge to Chinese sovereignty. Professor
Cotton told the committee:
...if we contemplated intervention in a situation where we
recognise that there is only one government of China,
whichever government that might be, it would be very problematic to ground it
in some legal status.
This is an awkward
contradiction to sustain as China
steady evolution into an independent (albeit not politically recognised)
The difficulty in maintaining the status quo was noted
by the Australian government during this inquiry. In referring to strategic
competition between the U.S.
and China, the
Department of Defence's submission stated that 'the possibility of
miscalculation over Taiwan
However, there are a number of factors that provide for
an optimistic outlook for cross-strait relations. The first is that East Asian
regional instability would be clearly detrimental to the economic development
of both Taiwan
and China. Although the prevailing cross-strait
stalemate is not ideal for either, it is still preferable to engaging in direct
military conflict. Mr Peter
Jennings, Director of the Australian
Strategic Policy Institute, has commented that:
...a full-scale military confrontation between the US
and China over Taiwan
would have strategic implications. It would polarise the Asia-Pacific, bring an
end to economic growth and threaten dire military escalation.
the consequences of a Chinese attack on home soil could be devastating, putting
at risk the safety of its people and the growth of its economy. Professor
Hugh White of
the ANU's Defence and Strategic Studies Centre has stated that:
...it is hard to see how it would be in Taiwan's
interest to risk war to gain the legal trappings of independence.
military conflict would jeopardise its past two decades of economic expansion.
As Mr Jennings
noted in his submission, China
has refrained from repeating its missile tests during the 2000 and 2004
Taiwanese elections, in contrast to the 1995–96 crisis. This, he suggested,
stems from a decision by the Chinese to avoid 'actions that might threaten
[their] growth path because of international instability'.
The committee also notes the Pentagon's views
military capacity with respect to Taiwan.
As discussed in Chapter 6, a U.S. Pentagon report released in July 2005
indicated that China's
military build-up represented a risk to regional balance and a long term threat
to other regional forces. However, the report concluded that China's
ability to project conventional power beyond its borders remains limited, and
does not yet possess the military capability to attack Taiwan.
committee earlier noted the importance of close economic ties between China and Taiwan. Professor Paul Dibb, Director of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the ANU,
expressed cautious optimism about the effect this could have on their political
...if anything, the risks
of conflict across the Taiwan Strait have moderated in recent years,
particularly as China has focused on fast economic growth and Taiwan has
benefited very substantially from it...But it is not a risk-free situation. You
cannot dismiss the risk of a miscalculation or some deliberate provocation on
one side or the other across the Taiwan Strait.
The committee remains optimistic that China,
Taiwan and the U.S.
can maintain the status quo and ultimately resolve Taiwan's
political status peacefully. However, the committee received considerable
evidence on the strains this unresolved problem could place on Australia's
relations with China.
Primarily, the discussion focussed on Australia's
approach to Taiwan
in the context of balancing its burgeoning trade and political relationship
against its potential alliance obligations to the U.S.
and the cross-strait status quo
As noted earlier, since 1972, the one-China policy has received
the support of both major Australian political parties.
Jennings has highlighted the 'delicate and
rather unsatisfactory balance' for Australia
to maintain a stance of strategic ambiguity:
Since 1972 Australia
has recognised Beijing as the sole
government of China
and Taiwan as a
province of the People's Republic. Taiwan
is, however, a vibrant and functioning democracy of 20 million people. It's
firmly in our interest to uphold the principle that democracies should be
respected in the international system. But in the interests of peace, Taiwanese
aspirations for more than de facto sovereignty must be curbed.
While noting Chinese President Hu Jintao's comments on
Australia's 'constructive role' in the peaceful reunification of Taiwan, the
committee recognises that Australia's potential for assisting in brokering a
resolution to this complex and sensitive issue is limited.
In evidence to the committee, former diplomat Mr
considered the alliance with the U.S.
to preclude Australia
from having a meaningful role in this regard:
In my view it is by definition and in fact impossible for Australia
to be an honest broker if it is tied by an alliance to one side and to
automatic military obligations.
contended that Australia
should strive to ensure that the U.S.
remained focussed on preventing Taiwan
from doing something provocative:
...there is no way that
the Taiwanese could in fact go down the independence track without American
support or at least tolerance or simply the failure of the Americans to move to
stop it. It seems to me that, for Australian policy, it means keeping a very
close watch and persuading the Americans very hard to make sure that Taiwan does not do
something that will be much more serious for us than it will be for the Americans.
Unfortunately, a breakdown of the status quo could potentially
a participant in Taiwan Strait affairs should the U.S.
intervene to protect Taiwan.
Were conflict to indeed break out across the Taiwan Strait,
find itself in the unenviable position of needing to decide if, or how, it
would assist the U.S.
According to Professor Bill
worst foreign policy nightmare will have materialised'. He has written that were we to
would 'jettison' Sino–Australian relations and impair its relations with other
Asian nations wishing to remain on good terms with China.
On the other hand, failing to participate would end Australia's
status as a reliable ally to the U.S.
response to such a scenario was discussed at length during the inquiry,
particularly in the context of our ANZUS Treaty obligations.
Australia's responsibility under ANZUS
The ANZUS Treaty was signed by Australia,
New Zealand and
the U.S. on 1 September 1951 and came into
force on 29 April 1952. In considering the Taiwanese issue,
the relevant provisions of the Treaty are as follows: Article III of the ANZUS
Treaty states that:
The Parties will consult together whenever in the opinion of any
of them the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of
the Parties is threatened in the Pacific.
Article IV states that:
Each Party recognises that an armed attack in the Pacific Area
on any of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares
that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its
Article V explains that, for the purposes of Article
IV, an armed attack can include attacks on 'armed forces, public vessels or
aircraft in the Pacific'.
If conflict were to erupt between China
and the U.S over Taiwan,
would the provisions of the Treaty require Australia
to participate in any U.S.-led military action? Although the committee
considers this to be a highly speculative question, it was widely discussed
during the inquiry.
Mr Peter Jennings commented in his submission that:
An attack on U.S.
military forces in the Pacific would, in the terms of the treaty, trigger a
requirement for Australia
and the U.S. to
consult on how to respond. If conflict seemed likely to break out over Taiwan
it is highly likely that the US
would ask Australia
to contribute military forces to a coalition operation in defence of the
In his submission to the committee, former ambassador Mr
outlined his understanding of Australia's
application of the ANZUS Treaty to the Taiwan
situation. He told the committee that Australia
never intended ANZUS to apply to Taiwan,
indeterminate political status and Australia's
unwillingness to follow the U.S.
into what would essentially be a civil war. He also indicated that in 1970, Australia's
Ambassador to the Republic of China (Taiwan)
as falling within ANZUS. Woodard
quoted the Ambassador as saying: 'Taiwan
is not in the area in which our specific defence obligations to the Americans
In evidence, Mr Woodard
reinforced this view that ANZUS would not apply to Taiwan:
I argue that historically this area, although clearly 'in the
Pacific', did not fall within the ambit of ANZUS. It was not Australia's
intention, when ANZUS was concluded, that it should cover Formosa,
as it was then called...
In our eyes, Taiwan
was not initially an internationally accepted state. Its status remained
undetermined. This affected what treaty commitments we could enter into which
would apply to it.
However, he was also of the view that a commitment had
been made to the U.S.
in the period just prior to or during the March 1996 crisis. Whether this was a
commitment related to those specific circumstances or a deliberate redefinition
of the scope of ANZUS is, according to Mr
argued that Australia's
response would depend heavily on the circumstances of any conflict:
The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has talked about: ‘It would depend on the circumstances of the time.’
I think that is a wise and prudent policy. If it were Chinese provocation it
would leave us with little option, and I will come to that. If it were Taiwanese
provocation that might be a different matter. But if it were Chinese
provocation against a democratically elected Taiwan, would the United States invoke the ANZUS
He further added that in the event of a
I think the implications for the ANZUS treaty would be serious,
and perhaps terminal, if we said no.
It would not be
automatic, but I am saying there would be substantial national security
penalties levied on Australia by the United States if we said no in the sort of scenario I painted where no
other country said yes.
Any discussion as to whether Australia would be bound
by ANZUS is, however, speculative. As Professor
Harris noted, it is unlikely that the source
of provocation for any conflict would be 'clear-cut'. Peter
Jennings has also written that:
There is little value (and indeed some danger) in an Australian
government speculating about our response in [a conflict] scenario. This is not
shirking alliance obligations...no alliance requires its members to sign a blank
cheque for military commitments into the indefinite future.
is maintaining an uncommitted stance in the interests of ongoing positive
relations with both the U.S.
and China. DFAT
informed the committee that:
Our position is that it is not useful to speculate on hypothetical
situations when the ANZUS Treaty would not apply.
... it would depend on a whole range of circumstances that apply
at the time. It is impossible for [the government] to speculate as to what
those circumstances might be.
In spite of the arguments relating to our obligations
under the provisions of ANZUS, the committee agrees that Australia
has little diplomatic incentive to clarify what Australia's
obligations would be in the event of a hypothetical U.S.–China conflict. To
adopt either a 'yes' or 'no' approach to Australia's
potential obligations under the ANZUS treaty would risk alienating either China
or the U.S. It
would also commit Australia
to a particular course of action regardless of the circumstances at the time.
According to Mr Woodard,
conflicting statements from the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on Australia's
ANZUS commitment appear to indicate a prevailing diplomatic ambiguity on the
issue. On 17 August 2004, the Australian Foreign Minister,
after meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao,
commented that under the ANZUS alliance Australia
may not automatically have to support the U.S.
in a conflict with China
over Taiwan. On 20 August, the U.S. Ambassador to
expressed the view that, although the U.S.
opposed Taiwanese independence, under the ANZUS Treaty Australia
would be obliged to come to the aid of the U.S.
in any conflict in the region.
Responding to the subsequent media interest, the Prime Minister reasserted the
government's position that the question of conflict over Taiwan
was hypothetical; until it actually transpired Australia
would continue to discourage conflict between the U.S.
within the framework of Australia's
support for the one-China policy. He also added, however, that Australia's
obligations to the U.S.
under ANZUS were clear:
We have to consult and come to each other's aid when we're under
attack or involved in conflict. That's the situation.
A pertinent question arises from an ambiguous approach
to this issue. Is it wise to allow uncertainty to exist over Australia's
contingency plans for conflict over Taiwan?
stated that Australia's
present stance was acceptable, so long as it is clarified before any potential
The presently ambiguous
nature of our statements in relation to the application of the ANZUS Treaty
towards Taiwan—that is, the statement by Foreign Minister Downer on the one
hand and the statements by the Prime Minister on the other—are acceptable to
both Washington and Beijing, and that is no mean feat. So I say let sleeping underdogs lie.
However, it will be better for us if we can choose our own occasion for
clarifying our military position, rather than being forced to do so one way or
the other at some stage.
disagreed with Australia's
cautiously ambiguous approach:
China is very important
to Australia, but genuflecting to China will not win concessions from Beijing,
just as it did not win concessions from Suharto. As a middle-ranking world
power with special importance in the Asia-Pacific region, we must stand up and
clearly state our positions to all sides without fear or favour. This can be
done quietly, but it must be done. Ultimately, it will win respect and
In his evidence to this committee, Mr
Woodard suggested that Australians would not
support our involvement in a conflict over Taiwan. Similarly, in February 2005, a poll
by the Lowy Institute revealed that 69 per cent of Australians held positive
feelings about China,
while the U.S.
achieved a positive response from just 58 per cent, indicating that support for military
conflict with China
would be unlikely.
The Australian government's 2003 Foreign and Trade Policy White Paper stated that:
takes military action in a particular circumstance will be determined by
careful case-by-case consideration based on our broad national interests.
has made clear that it supports the one-China policy and encourages both China
and Taiwan to
work together to find a solution. It has also made plain that it is a staunch
ally of the U.S. and that ANZUS remains an important agreement. The committee
believes that this approach is the wise course of action. It also notes and
welcomes the recent statement by Dr Condoleezza
Rice indicating the preparedness of the U.S.
to exert pressure, when required, on either China
or Taiwan to
prevent any escalation of tension.
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