As the world nervously watches Hong Kong’s unravelling, a far bigger crisis is brewing only a few hundred kilometres away on the island of Taiwan.
The Hong Kong protests have already had a tremendous impact on Taiwan’s politics and the island’s upcoming January elections. Taiwan goes to the polls rejecting China’s preferred ‘one country, two systems’ formula for reunification that has already proven so incendiary in Hong Kong. But Beijing will accept nothing less and its patience with this ‘renegade province’ is fast running out.
Chinese economic, diplomatic and military pressure has ramped up during Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen’s first term in office. Taiwan’s recent loss of two diplomatic allies – Solomon Islands and Kiribati – to China is just the latest manifestation of growing tensions. But Tsai’s likely return to power, and that of her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, will usher in an even more dangerous new period in cross-strait relations.
Further infuriating Beijing, relations between Taipei and Washington are the closest they have been in decades. The Trump administration has signed off on several big arms sales to the island. US Navy ships now transit the Taiwan Strait monthly. Taiwan also risks becoming a pawn in what some commentators are branding a new US-China Cold War.
After decades of relative stability, the longstanding Taiwan flashpoint looks set to reignite. The implications for Australia are substantial, particularly should crisis tip into full blown conflict. But what, if anything, can Canberra do to head off the coming Taiwan crisis?
Brendan Taylor is a Professor of Strategic Studies and Deputy Director of the Coral Bell School. Specialising in great power strategic relations in the Asia-Pacific, economic sanctions and regional security architecture. He is an Associate of China Matters.
Linda Jakobson founded China Matters, an independent policy institute focussed on the tough policy issues in the Australia-China relationship.
Hugh White is Emeritus Professor of Strategic Studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU. He has been an intelligence analyst, journalist, ministerial adviser, departmental official, think tanker and academic. He is a member of the China Matters Advisory Council.
Allan Gyngell is Director of the Crawford Australian Leadership Forum and an Adjunct Professor in the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy. He is a member of the China Matters Board of Directors.
Professor Nick Bisley from La Trobe University will chair the panel. He is Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at La Trobe University and is a member of the China Matters Advisory Council.
This event is jointly hosted by the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs and China Matters.