Australia vows to help US defend Taiwan from Chinese attacks

Australia’s defence minister has said it was “inconceivable” that his nation would not support the US in a campaign to defend Taiwan from China, amid rising concerns about Beijing’s increasingly assertive military activity.

In an interview with The Australian newspaper, Peter Dutton said that Chinese leaders had been “very clear about their intent to go into Taiwan” and that Canberra had to improve its ability to deter Beijing and be ready to join the US military if it took action.

“It would be inconceivable that we wouldn’t support the US in an action if the US chose to take that action,” Dutton said.

His comments came two months after the US, Australia and UK launched a trilateral security partnership that will help Canberra obtain nuclear-powered submarines, an effort viewed as designed to counter China.

“Australia’s rapid strategic realignment on China has been stunning,” said Eric Sayers, a security expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “We are now seeing a level of shared tactical clarity emerge in Washington, Canberra and Tokyo on the criticality of stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

Dutton’s comments also came weeks after President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack. The White House rolled back the comments, which appeared to upend “strategic ambiguity”, a longstanding US policy under which Washington does not say explicitly whether it would intervene in a military conflict over Taiwan.

The policy is intended to prevent Taiwan from taking action that would trigger a Chinese attack while deterring Beijing from military action against the country, over which it claims sovereignty. Biden’s comments marked the second time this year that he suggested Washington would defend Taipei.

The issue of Taiwan is expected to loom over a virtual meeting on Monday between Biden and China’s president Xi Jinping to address challenges in the relationship between their countries.

On Wednesday, Paul Keating, the former Australian prime minister, said Taiwan was “not a vital Australian interest” and that Canberra should not be drawn into a conflict with Beijing over the island.

The US has been strengthening alliances in Europe and Asia in an effort to present a united front against Beijing. Biden has reinvigorated the “Quad”, a security group that includes Australia, Japan and India.

In July, Taro Aso, then Japan’s deputy prime minister, said a conflict over Taiwan would pose an existential threat that would require Japan and the US to “defend Taiwan together”.

Gerald Brown, an Asia security expert, welcomed Dutton’s statement, saying one of the most important factors in deterring Chinese military action against Taiwan was “creating a multilateral front”.

“Australia’s willingness to assist in the event of an unprovoked attack against Taiwan substantially raises the costs for the [People’s Republic of China] to engage in hostilities,” Brown said. “A multilateral front of multiple states willing to step in and support continues to raise these costs and is a prudent move towards deterring PRC aggression.”

The US said on Friday that Antony Blinken, secretary of state, had stressed in a call with Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japan’s new foreign minister, that Washington was committed to “working closely with Japan and other allies and partners to advance our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

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