Is Taiwan a Diversion as Beijing Eyes Australia?

The Australian defense establishment fears that it could be an easier and more necessary military target than Taiwan.
Is Taiwan a Diversion as Beijing Eyes Australia?
Chinese Premier Li Qiang (L) and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese shake hands during the opening ceremony of the 6th China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai on Nov. 5, 2023. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)
James Gorrie
12/6/2023
Updated:
12/11/2023
0:00
Commentary

While military planners in the United States and Japan think and rethink how to defend Taiwan against an invasion by communist China, Australian defense planners have other fears. Their top concern is that the Chinese regime’s resurgent nationalism and rapid naval buildup are aimed as much at Australia as they are at Taiwan, if not more so.

Aussies Grow Suspicious of China

According to a recent Lowy Institute poll, their fears aren’t unfounded. Just as in 2022, about 75 percent of Australians think China poses a military threat to Australia at least within the next 20 years.

But some strategists, including some in Australia, believe it could be much sooner.

The thinking on the Chinese regime’s military plans for Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific region varies from country to country. Japan, for example, has linked its own security to that of Taiwan. The Japanese government policy is that an attack on Taiwan is an attack on Japan and that Japan would respond militarily to defend Taiwan.

The United States, on the other hand, has struggled to maintain its “strategic ambiguity” policy concerning the defense of Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. There are questions as to whether the United States is, in fact, still capable of defending Taiwan against an overwhelming Chinese military engagement, including a numerically superior naval presence and hypersonic anti-ship missiles.

Beijing Needs a Win

In Beijing, the strategy has already been laid out—if Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping’s mandate for the military to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027 at the latest is to be believed. Such a pronouncement makes the Australians nervous. Furthermore, a Chinese military expert told state-run media Global Times that in the event of a war over Taiwan, Australia would be one of the first to be hit.

There are good reasons to believe that statement is sincere. Like the rest of the developed world, China’s tech sector relies on access to the computer chips made by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. What’s more, with the rise of anti-China moods in Europe, the United States, and Argentina, and a crumbling economy at home that’s even worse than reported, Xi needs a win. He telegraphed his intentions in his recent meeting with President Joe Biden when he stated that “the status quo [with Taiwan] can’t last forever.”

Beijing Ramps Up Military Encroachment on Taiwan

Xi is backing up those statements with action. In recent months, the CCP has upended the status quo surrounding Taiwan with unprecedented levels of air and sea military incursions as well as interference in Taiwanese politics.

But China is also heavily dependent on Australia’s natural resources. In 2022, for example, China imported 69 percent of its iron ore from Australia, three times more than Brazil, China’s second-largest supplier. Iron ore isn’t only a key ingredient for steelmaking and overall economic development but is also critical if China wants to continue building up its naval fleet of ships and submarines, which it does and is. So are coal, oil, and grains.

The CCP’s naval ambitions are to first thwart U.S. dominance in the South China Sea, particularly with regard to Taiwan, and then outward to include the greater Asia-Pacific region. From a naval perspective, that first objective is within reach, if not already a reality. Furthermore, Australian planners know that with the Chinese regime’s long-range missiles and potential control over shipping lanes, particularly the Strait of Malacca, distance and oceans are no longer the defensive buffer they used to be.

That’s why the AUKUS and Quad agreements are so important to Australia. Collective security and its de-facto supporting role for the U.S. military are Australia’s main hope to avoid domination by the CCP. That said, neither arrangement is strong enough to sufficiently defend Australia.

Australia Is a Valid Military Target

From Beijing’s perspective, Australia is a valid and arguably easier military target, especially since its participation in last spring’s war games that the United States, France, and Japan held in the East China Sea. The propagandists at Global Times have warned Australia that its military is “weak” and “insignificant” and that Australian forces would be the “first hit” in any potential conflict over Taiwan.

Additionally, Beijing doesn’t have to invade Australia per se to “hit it.” Cyber and missile attacks could go a long way in neutralizing it as an effective ally of U.S. military presence in the area, while blocking the shipping traffic could quickly cripple the Australian economy, leaving it reliant on exports to China, which it is, once again.

Or not.

Why Is China Hoarding Food, Fuel, and Gold?

That kind of scenario isn’t simply mere speculation but rather a major concern for Australia, given that China has been continually stockpiling food, fuel, and gold. One interpretation is that China is taking preparatory action to secure itself an 18-month supply of necessities to weather the shortages that come with war.

A coal train awaits loading at BHP Billiton's Mt Arthur coal mine in Muswellbrook, Australia. In October 2020, Beijing banned the import of Australian coal after then-Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison publicly called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to launch an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
A coal train awaits loading at BHP Billiton's Mt Arthur coal mine in Muswellbrook, Australia. In October 2020, Beijing banned the import of Australian coal after then-Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison publicly called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to launch an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

That remains to be seen. But from a strategic angle, the smart move from Beijing’s perspective may be to hit the United States where it isn’t, forcing Washington to divide its Pacific forces or choose to defend one over the other.

The Australians are keeping a close eye on China, even if there isn’t as much they can do about it at this point as they would like.

In any case, it seems clear that with its aggressive behavior with the United States, as well as with its regional neighbors, including the Philippines, Vietnam, and particularly Taiwan, the CCP’s foreign policy trajectory certainly isn’t a peaceful one.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
James R. Gorrie is the author of “The China Crisis” (Wiley, 2013) and writes on his blog, TheBananaRepublican.com. He is based in Southern California.
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