Conflict with China over Taiwan 'should not be discounted', Australian defence minister says

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China and Taiwan are ruled separately -  REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
China and Taiwan are ruled separately - REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Australia’s defence minister said Sunday that a conflict with China over Taiwan should not be discounted because Beijing has made its goal of taking control of the island "very clear".

Peter Dutton’s comments follow recent warnings by US admirals that annexing Taiwan is Beijing’s “no. 1 priority” and that it could launch a military attack on Taiwan within the next six years.

China’s foreign ministry has said that the US is hyping up the threat to justify an increase in American military expenditure and its “interference in regional affairs”.

Mr Dutton said in a television interview Sunday that people needed to be realistic and Australia will work with its allies in the region to try to keep the peace.

Asked on the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) whether the prospects of a conflict over Taiwan are growing, he replied: “I don’t think it should be discounted.”

“People need to be realistic about the activity,” Mr Dutton said. “There is militarisation of bases across the region. Obviously, there is a significant amount of activity and there is an animosity between Taiwan and China.”

China and Taiwan have been ruled separately for more than 70 years. For decades, the Communist Party has vowed to take control of the island, by force if necessary.

Tensions have risen over the past year as the Chinese military has conducted near-daily forays into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, pushing the island’s air force to repeatedly scramble to give them verbal warnings to leave.

China – Taiwan’s largest trading partner – has also continued to pressure the island economically and diplomatically.

Mr Dutton said that Canberra wants “to make sure we continue to be a good neighbour in the region, that we work with our partners and with our allies and nobody wants to see conflict between China and Taiwan or anywhere else.”

Australia’s own relations with Beijing have plunged over the past year after Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origins of Covid-19, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

China – also Australia’s largest trading partner – imposed a series of informal trade sanctions on Australian products, affecting billions of dollars’ worth of the country’s exports.