Australian troops are “cannon fodder”. That’s the Chinese Communist Party’s reaction to Defence Minister Peter Dutton’s “jaw-dropping” promise to defend Taiwan.
“It’s jaw-dropping that Dutton’s so-called ‘realistic’ decision is to bring the 25 million Australians into great uncertainties, including the risks of a military conflict,” accuses state-controlled media.
In a rare media appearance on Sunday, Dutton said Australia would follow any move made by the United States.
Beijing and Chairman Xi Jinping, he said, had been “very clear about their intent with regard to Taiwan”. It is a “question for the Chinese as to whether, such as in Hong Kong, they decide to do something with regard to Taiwan. If that’s the case, what’s the Americans’ response?
“We obviously have an alliance with the United States that’s been in force now for 70 years, so we need to be realistic about that.”
A Communist Party-controlled Global Times editorial labels Dutton “senseless”.
“Dutton, first of all, has called white black,” writes commentator Yu Ning. “The current cross-Straits tensions are caused by the US constantly provoking China’s red-line on the Taiwan question and inciting secessionist forces on the Taiwan island to confront the Chinese mainland.”
Beijing reserves the right to use force if Taiwan doesn’t willingly capitulate.
Taiwan, however, sees no “red lines”.
The Republic of China autocracy-turned-democracy didn’t surrender to the Communist Party uprising during the 1949 civil war. It has no intention of doing so now.
Now Taipei’s own defence minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng, says his country is prepared to defend itself alone, if necessary.
“The country must rely on itself,” he told media Thursday. “If any friends or other groups can help us, then we’re happy to have it. But we cannot completely depend on it,”
Of Emu Soldiers and Wolf Warriors.
Dutton, for his part, is not impressed with Beijing’s media messaging.
“I think they make the case for us. I think their comments are counter-productive and immature and, frankly, embarrassing,” he said Sunday.
It had no effect on Beijing’s wolf-warrior approach to diplomacy in the following week.
“Hyping the possibility of war is easy for a reckless politician and may help score some cheap political points. But does it make any sense?” the State-controlled news outlet accuses.
“He (Dutton) is also an extreme populist with a strong tendency of racism,” an earlier Global Times editorial said of his appointment. “These characteristics have helped Dutton win the favour of Australia’s populist and racist political forces and the US’ ultra-right political forces.
It’s fair to say Dutton becoming defence minister is due to the support of ultra-right political forces inside and outside Australia.”
Australia’s defence media has also accused Dutton of being immensely sensitive about shaping media coverage.
He’s been observed to largely ignore Australia’s state-funded independent news service, the ABC. Instead, the paywalled Sky News tends to be his platform of choice.
After years of his predecessors working to open up Defence relations with the public, a Senate standing committee has cross-examined Dutton’s office on a decree that they must have total control over any and all contact with the media.
Nobody can speak without his permission. And even those given that privilege must not utter more than three paragraphs – no matter the complexity of the subject, according to a leaked email outlining his strict new rules.
“Defence reporting in a country which regards itself one of the worlds’ most stable democracies just became a lot harder,” an Australian Defence News editorial recently declared.
“They’ve got six submarines. They can put four of them into the water, and China will sink all four in a week,” the Global Times quotes a former US intelligence officer as saying of Australia.
After a string of botched defence procurement programs, it’s a precarious position Dutton is well aware of.
“We’re also a small population of 25 million, and we need to make sure we have the best friends in the world, and we do,” he told Sky News.
The recently announced Australia, United Kingdom, United States (AUKUS) defence technology sharing pact and the increased tempo of cooperative war-games should come as no surprise, he added. “I think we made that statement 70 years ago and probably 100 years ago. I mean, we’ve been with the United States and with the UK through every major battle in the 20th century.”
Expect more to come, he said. “We have a great obligation over the next century to make sure that we deepen that collaboration because it is the underpinning of our national security. There’s no sense in us pretending that if we bought 100 subs tomorrow, we could compete with a superpower like China.”
Beijing responded by once again seeking to drive a wedge into the growing alliances against its assertiveness.
“It’s inexplicable that Australia blindly ties itself to the US so tightly. It reflects the country’s immaturity and lack of wisdom to deal with complicated situations in the global geopolitical arena. Australia needs to grow up,” the Global Times quotes Australian Studies Centre of East China Normal University Professor Chen Hong.
“More ridiculously, US exports to China of wine, cotton, timber and wood have increased over the past year amid a strained China-Australia relationship. Australia’s loss has turned out to be the gain of its best friend.”
Drive for deterrence
“Some senseless Australian politicians have been talking about a potential military conflict with China and pushing Australia to make war preparations,” the Communist Party approved editorial asserts.
It’s because of an increasing desire in the West to recognise Taiwan’s nationhood and defend its fledgling democracy.
Neither Canberra nor Washington have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei. Nor does most of the rest of the world, including the United Nations.
That’s because Communist China has since 1949 claimed the island of some 24 million people to be a “wayward province”. It asserts ownership under a temporary “one nations, two principles” system.
Chairman Xi, however, has pinned his legacy on successfully assimilating the island under Communist Party rule. And he’s getting impatient.
Australia, the US – and others – accepted the “one nation, two principles” argument to ride China’s rapid economic rise – so long as the status quo was maintained. But, now, such carefully balanced ambiguity is becoming much harder to maintain.
Beijing has repeatedly said it reserves the right to use force. The Global Times did so again: “If the Taiwan question escalates so that it can only be solved through military means, the sudden surrender of Taiwan authorities who dare not fight is within everyone’s expectation.”
“The mainland doesn’t want to fight a war. It has the will to safeguard peace and take war as a last resort,” another Communist Party editorial asserts.
“The Democratic Progressive Party authorities dare not fight. They are making bluffs, but they know very well that the island’s military forces are weak. They cannot withstand even a single blow.”
It derides Taiwan’s small army as being made up of “strawberry soldiers” – young, “soft” youths who cannot cope with pressure.
It accuses Taipei of being totally reliant on “US and Western opinions” in its desire for independence.
Taipei has responded, saying it is prepared to stand alone against any Chinese aggression.
Foreign Minister Joseph Wu recently told the ABC that Taiwan was preparing for invasion.
“Xi Jinping has set his course: claiming Taiwan will assure his legacy. It is the big piece in his China Dream,” he said. “Taiwan is the prize. For Xi, it means finishing what China’s revolutionary leader, Mao Zedong, started.
“Call it Xi’s gamble: That history is on his side, and his big rival the US will do nothing to stop him. There is a big test looming: Will America fight alongside Taiwan?”
On Thursday, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said she believed it will. “I do have faith given the long term relationship we have with the US and also the support of the people of the US as well as Congress.”
But Taiwan’s foreign minister says it doesn’t intend to be reliant on any ally.
“The defence of Taiwan is in our own hands,” he said. “If China’s going to launch a war against Taiwan, we will fight to the end.”
By Jamie Seidel