Is the Liberal Party abandoning war talk on China?

Aug 10, 2022
Peter Dutton
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Is Dutton also preparing to shift ground?

Listening to Andrew Hastie on Insiders on August 7 there were clear signs that he was not blindly following Peter Dutton.

It might have been expected that Hastie would offer rhetorical support to the Pelosi visit. In the last parliament Peter Dutton would have.

Hastie declined to do so, saying instead that it was a matter for the US. Asked whether the Pelosi visit made Taiwan a safer place he said, “That’s one for the US to answer.”

Hastie did not repeat the formula that Richard Marles had used (before relegating it) and Peter Khalil, Chair of Joint Intelligence and Security Committee, had used that the Pelosi visit showed “America was committed to the region.” This was a badly chosen formula because ramping up tension over the Taiwan Strait raises the risk of conflict and creates the risk of an American defeat and subsequent withdrawal from the region.

Besides, the White House and the military chiefs strongly opposed the visit.

Asked whether Australia would support Taiwan in the event of conflict Hastie said the question was hypothetical. Thus he declined to repeat the Dutton Doctrine expressed on November 12 2021 that it was “inconceivable” that Australia would not join an American war on China over Taiwan. Instead Hastie used the same language Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Wong have used about this being hypothetical.

Hastie explicitly endorsed strategic ambiguity, saying it allowed flexibility. He explicitly endorsed the One China Policy pointing out it was the position of Australia, the US and Japan. He said our interest was in preserving the status quo with an implication that this meant acknowledgement of China’s claim and no recognition of Taiwan as a country and, implicitly, no military move by either side.

He declined an invitation to declare support for Taiwanese independence and an opportunity to declare he would visit.

Asked about American missiles being positioned in northern Australia, Hastie ruled out that option and instead supported “our own sovereign Australian missiles…Australian-owned missiles.”

David Crowe in the Sydney Morning Herald reported only the Hastie condemnation of China’s military exercises in response to Pelosi, completely missing the shifts in policy from the Morrison era embodied in Hastie’s nuanced comments. But with journalists so long on the American drip feed Crowe’s report is not surprising.

( PS-Then there was even more good news on August 9 Dutton said that whilst Pelosi was right to go to Taiwan, he would not be doing the same. A change may be underway in the Liberal Party after all. Thank God.)

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