10 July 2021
Independent Senator Rex Patrick today called on the Australian Government to reconsider Australia’s so-called “One China” policy and unambiguously support Taiwan’s status as a democratic country.
“For nearly 50 years, Australia has, as a price for good relations with Beijing, agreed to the diplomatic fiction that Taiwan is part of China and that Taiwan will one day be peacefully reunited with the People’s Republic of China. That political sophistry has now run its course”, Senator Patrick said.
“Australia needs to have an open national discussion, and consultation with our close allies, on the future of this foreign policy orthodoxy that is no longer credible and is becoming unsustainable. The Coalition Government and the Labor Opposition both need to publicly address this question. It must not be dealt with through silence and acquiescence."
“When Prime Minister Gough Whitlam opened diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, Chairman Mao Zedong presided over the totalitarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party while Taiwan was ruled by the corrupt authoritarian regime of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.”
“Five decades later Taiwan is an economic powerhouse and most importantly a vibrant democracy, presently led by twice-elected President Tsai Ing-wen. That democratic country of nearly 24 million people now faces growing threats of military coercion from the Communist dictatorship in Beijing.
“Last year the Chinese Communist Party dropped their nominal commitment to peaceful reunification with Taiwan and embarked on a steady escalation of political and military pressure, including almost daily violations of Taiwanese airspace.”
“Chinese President Xi Jinping has made clear his ambition, to assert control over Taiwan and end the Island’s democratic autonomy.”
"Last week he vowed to crush any opposition to 'complete reunification' and 'utterly defeat' any attempt towards ‘Taiwan independence’.”
“This long declared ambition of the Chinese Communist Party, and President Xi’s strong inclination towards a belligerent international stance, will likely see a further escalation of threats and coercion once Beijing has hosted the February 2022 Winter Olympic Games. China may bring very heavy pressure to bear on Taiwan in the run-up to the Taiwanese Presidential election in 2024.”
“If China is not dissuaded from ultimately resorting to force in the Taiwan Strait, we could well face a crisis of much greater danger than past confrontations in 1954-55, 1958 and 1995-1996.”
“Australia’s longstanding policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan may well have run its course”, Senator Patrick said.
“China’s refusal to renounce the use of force against Taiwan, and their increasing preparedness to do so, make Australia’s ‘one China’ policy incompatible with our support for democracy and self-determination, and our strategic interests.”
“We need to engage with our close allies, especially the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom and others to develop a common position in support of Taiwan.”
Significantly, in a speech made last week, Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Yasuhide Nakayama declared it is essential for Western democracies to 'wake up' to Beijing's pressure on Taiwan and protect the island 'as a democratic country.'
Mr Nakayama questioned whether the decision of many countries, including Japan, the United States and Australia to follow a ‘one China’ policy would stand the test of time. ‘Was it right?’ he asked, referring to how future generations will judge policymakers on the issue. ‘I don't know.’
Senator Patrick said “It is likely Australia and other democracies will soon face major decisions about our relations with Taiwan.”
“It is consistent with Australia's values and national interest that we support Taiwan's democratic autonomy and strongly oppose any attempts to change Taiwan's status by force or threat of force.”
“The Australian Government needs to make it absolutely clear that it could never be acceptable to allow Taiwan, a democratic country of nearly 24 million people to be subject to military coercion and, if unsupported, surrendered to Beijing.”
“That would involve a betrayal of democratic principles and a strategic setback of grave significance for Australia's security in the Asia-Pacific region.”
“For those with a sense of history, the Chinese Communist Party’s recent destruction of Hong Kong’s democratic institutions is comparable to Nazi Germany’s 1936 remilitarisation of the Rhineland. A failure to support Taiwan's democracy and autonomy would be comparable with the Munich settlement of 1938 and the resultant Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia.”
“If we are to avoid these challenges, Australia and other like-minded democracies need to send Beijing some very clear messages about Taiwan, and that involves ditching the so-called ‘one China’ policy that falsely claims that Taiwan is part of China.”
“Apart from a brief period between the end of the Second World War and the Communist victory in the Chinese civil war in 1949, Taiwan has not been controlled by a regime in Beijing since 1895.”
“China and Taiwan's paths diverged a long time ago, and have grown much farther apart as Taiwan embraced democracy while China has turned towards increasing authoritarianism and entrenched dictatorship.”
“Taiwan’s survival as a democratic country is a key national interest for Australia and other Western democracies”, Senator Patrick said. “The Australian Government and the Australian Parliament need to make that unambiguously clear.”
Note: Senator Patrick is the first Australian Parliamentarian to call for an end to the “one China” policy since the mid-1970s. Australia’s current policy toward China and Taiwan was most recently reaffirmed by the Morrison Government in response to a Senate motion relating to Taiwan proposed by Senator Patrick on 11 November 2020.