Tony Abbott slams China's 'belligerence' in speech in Taiwan
“Our challenge is to try to ensure that the unthinkable remains unlikely; and the possible doesn’t become the probable.”
His comments come during heightened tensions between Beijing and Taipei, fuelled by recent Chinese military aggression, which has prompted fears over the potential for conflict.
The Yushan Forum is an Asian regional dialogue conference organised by the Taiwan-Asia Exchange discussing concerns facing the island and its neighbouring partner countries.
Mr Abbott said “Australia has no issue with China” and blamed Beijing for its relationship with Australia spiralling to diplomatic lows.
He also recognised that Australia’s relations with Beijing had deteriorated since his own government finalised a free trade deal with Australia’s major trading partner in 2015.
“Be a friend, that experience shows, and you’ll have friends; be a bully, and you’ll only have clients, who can’t wait to escape,” he said.
“So if the “drums of war” can be heard in our region, as an official of ours has noted, it’s not Australia that’s beating them."
Mr Abbott raised the actions of a more assertive Beijing, including its crackdown in Hong Kong and persecution of the Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang Province, as examples of how China had incited tensions.
“I’m here, having concluded that China’s belligerence is all self-generated,” he said.
The visit of Mr Abbott - who is attending the event in a private capacity - is significant as political visits to the self-governed island are sensitive and can cause ire from Beijing.
Mr Abbott’s speech openly recognised this potential risk indicating that he had previously hesitated to attend the conference in 2019 “lest that provoke China.”
Source: Central News Agency Pool
Mr Abbott also suggested Beijing was responsible for the formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue - between the United States, Japan, India and Australia.
“It’s been so unreasonable; and the more aggressive it becomes, the more opponents it will have,” he said.
Australia doesn't formally recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state, but it does support unofficial ties with Taiwan, which is the nation’s 12th largest trading partner.
During his address, Mr Abbott urged Australians not to be indifferent to the fate of the fellow democracy of almost 25 million people in Taiwan.
“Taiwan’s friends are so important now: to stress that Taiwan’s future should be decided by its own people,” he said.
“To let Beijing know that any attempt at coercion would have incalculable consequences.”
He praised Taiwan for having “grown from an impoverished dictatorship to a prosperous democracy” in the past 70 years.
“This is simply a stellar performance: prosperity plus freedom, a model that the whole world should admire, not isolate.”
China claims Taiwan as its own territory, which should be taken by force if necessary.
Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy, blaming Bejing for the tensions.
Mr Abbott also reiterated a call for Taiwan’s bid to be included in the trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership during his speech.
China has also applied to join the 11-member body which includes Australia, but Beijing is against the self-governed island being recognised in these types of multilateral bodies.
But Mr Abbott said China “could never be admitted” to the group while it “engaged in a trade war with Australia, and in predatory trade all-round.”