Hugh White has made an effective rebuttal of Paul Dibb’s claim that we should join the US if China takes military action against Taiwan.
It is important to stress that ANZUS does not require us to join with the USA in defending Taiwan.
The relevant sections of the Treaty follows The bits in bold are mine.
Article III: 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: Each Party recognizes 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 constitutional processes. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.
Article V: For the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on any of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of any of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.
The only way the US could argue that we were obliged to join would be to claim that Article V means China had made an armed attack “on its armed forces … in the Pacific” The argument presumably would be that China had attacked US armed forces based in Taiwan. This seems to me a dubious proposition when it was the US that had commenced hostilities against |China. And in any case we would only be obliged to consult in accordance with our constitutional processes – a provision inserted at US insistence so that it would not automatically be obliged to come to Australia’s aid. Taiwan is not part of the USA despite the view of the missionary and other lobbies that it was lost.
A further consideration is that Australia and the US accept the one China policy so Beijing might argue that they are simply finishing the civil war which was not completed because of US interference in China’s internal affairs. How could we legally justify military action against a recalcitrant province which we recognise as part of China? Note also that Article IV states that any armed attack must be immediately reported to the Security Council which, given the Chinese and Russian vetoes, would not endorse the American action. All measures must cease when the UN has taken the necessary measures to maintain international peace and security. What would those measures be?
In addition to the arguments so well put by Hugh White, the main problem for us would be that our forces are so integrated with the US military that it would be a major operation to get them out and the US might not even bother to ask us. There is a precedent for taking them out as we did with Australians serving in British units during the Falklands War but they were not so deeply integrated. .A further concern is the presence of US intelligence bases in Australia like Pine Gap which would presumably be involved in any action against China. Some would argue that Taiwan has become a democracy and that therefore we must support a political system which is important to us but would this include military action which would be token? The major problem would be our client mentality which sees our relationship with the USA as paramount and more important than any others including our Southeast Asian neighbours. Would the Australian public support military action which could involve Chinese attacks on Australian soil? Our other forays with the US have not posed any threat to the homeland. Would we join another Coalition of the Willing? As lovers of Laurel and Hardy might say, another fine mess you’ve got us into America.
Cavan Hogue is a retired Australian diplomat with extensive experience in Asia.