Morrison’s Taiwan visit designed to goad China into war

Oct 17, 2023
Close up of Taiwan on map.

The speech by former Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison in Taipei on Wednesday 11 October, 2023, was clearly designed to undermine the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Albanese to Beijing. It continued to drive forward the American objective of goading China into war over Taiwan.

His assertion that “the status of Taiwan is deliberately ambiguous, and remains so” is a serious misrepresentation of both the legal and historical fact that Taiwan has always been a province of China. Although occupied by Japan from the end of the nineteenth century, it was legally returned to China’s sovereignty under the Instrument of Surrender signed by Japan at the end of WWII.

The status quo, which China has vowed to preserve, is one in which Taiwan is a province of China, with internal self-rule as a Special Autonomous Region (SAR). The so-called “ambiguity’ arises simply because Taiwan’s system of governance in the province is different from that of most of the rest of China (which does however have other SARs within it)

Morrison’s assertion that “In recognising the People’s Republic of China in 1972, Australia’s One China policy acknowledged that the PRC had claims over Taiwan, however it did not recognise the legitimacy of those claims”, is a blatant untruth. It was not Australia’s One China Policy, but China’s. Australia’s recognition of the PRC as the sole legitimate government of the whole of China amounted to endorsement of China’s One China Policy.

The standard dictionary definition of “acknowledge” is “recognise and accept”. Australia gave a concrete demonstration that it recognised and accepted China’s position regarding Taiwan as a province of China, by withdrawing recognition of the government of Taiwan and severing diplomatic relations with it. Australia’s dealings with Taiwan have been at an unofficial level ever since.

This fact is admitted by Morrison, although he is clearly advocating raising them to a level well above unofficial, especially in proposing formal defence links.

Morrison’s repetition of the shibboleth regarding the PRC preparing to “forcefully occupy Taiwan” continues the propaganda campaign to paint China as “aggressive”, even though China’s frequently reiterated policy is to pursue the gradual, peaceful reintegration of Taiwan into the life of the nation.

This has been ongoing since 1989, with the promotion of leadership talks; two-way family, business, work and tourism visits; two-way trade (the Mainland of China is Taiwan’s biggest trading partner); two-way investment (the Mainland is both the largest source of investment into Taiwan and the largest destination for investment from Taiwan).

This was all formalised under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement in 2002.

The PRC intends this process to continue unless disrupted by an attempt at independence. China has always said it would only use force to prevent severance of Taiwan from China’s sovereign territory.

Morrison pays lip-service to the need to defend the status quo, while actively working to undermine it, by advocating for treating Taiwan as a separate legal entity in a whole range of international organisations – disingenuously suggesting that it could be done in ways that would “not cross the threshold of national statehood”.

This would be tantamount to allowing the State of Victoria, say, to pursue international relations at odds with national policy – which, of course, the Federal Government did not countenance. Asserting the need to ensure “respect for the autonomy of the people of Taiwan” is something of a straw man, since Taiwan’s internal autonomy is protected under PRC law.

Morrison’s support for the US policy of a “free and open Pacific” for all (except China, which must be contained), is expressed in his fear that PRC control of Taiwan would enable it “to project well beyond the first island chain, radically altering the security environment within the Indo-Pacific”.

Much of the language of Morrison’s speech, and his comments to the media, come straight from the American defence policy playbook, chipping away at the edifice of the One China structure until it crumbles into war over Taiwan – a war which his and his successor government have ensured Australia is locked into, with potentially devastating consequences.

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