Your Foreign Minister has this week spoken frankly with the Australian people about the prospect of invasion so I will do my best to speak with equal candour.
For a retired free world politician, there maybe no more telling place to be right now, because this is where liberty and tyranny are most at odds.
Taiwan is a liberal democracy of almost 25 million people, now in peril, so what Australian democrat would not rally to your cause?
We have to assume that China is preparing to take Taiwan, as President Xi himself has said, by force if necessary, even though Taiwan has never been part of communist China and hasn’t really been ruled from Beijing since 1895.
Why would China be flying ever more intimidatory sorties against this island; and why would China be building a massive amphibious assault capability; and why would it be amassing batteries of “carrier-killing” missiles, if its plan were not to force the United States from the Western Pacific and to have the People’s Liberation Army in charge here in Taipei?
I can hardly conceive of a more horrible prospect than a sea and air invasion of this island; preceded as it almost certainly would be, by an ultimatum to the United States and its allies
Yet isn’t the alternative even worse: the subjection of a free people to a tyranny that brooks no opposition, no alternative sources of power and influence, no independent thought, just ever more complete subservience to the Red Emperor, monitored and enforced by 24/7 electronic surveillance?
I am no military planner but, with Sun Tzu, imagine that Beijing would prefer to win without a fight.
Beijing is already mixing intimidation with misinformation in the grey zone between peace and war. The campaign to take Taiwan has started; an invasion would be but the final consummation of Beijing’s drive to put the so-called century of humiliation behind it.
The steadily increasing sorties into Taiwanese air zones are designed to test your readiness, wear out your pilots and planes, and ultimately confuse you about the big exercise that might turn out to be a real attack. I imagine that these will increase and intensify and creep closer to Taiwan itself, in the hope of provoking a reaction that would enable Beijing to claim that war was Taiwan’s fault.
Likewise I’d expect the PLA navy to start exercising in greater numbers closer to your shores. If it intimidates you into striking a deal, so much the better; otherwise, again, the objective would be to build pressure and provoke an incident that could be blamed on Taiwan, along with the insistence that this was China’s internal affair and no business of anyone else.
I suspect that Chinese ships and planes will eventually swarm right up to the 12 mile limit. That’s why it will be important for Taiwan’s friends, the United States, Japan, Australia, Britain and the Europeans, regularly and in force to keep patrolling the Taiwan Straits to remind Beijing that these are international waters that it does not own.
If sea and air intimidation doesn’t produce the clash that China can claim is the cause of war, at some point I’d expect China to announce a blockade of the so-called “rebel province” and claim the right to intercept the ships and planes carrying Taiwan’s trade in the hope of making life here all-but-impossible.
This would be the key moment for Taiwan’s friends: would they be prepared to run a Chinese blockade, and would China be prepared to intercept foreign ships and planes bound for Taiwan? My instinct is that China would be reluctant to down an American ship or plane but would instead challenge the United States and its allies to keep Taiwan supplied indefinitely.
By that stage, the economic relationship between China, and the US and its allies, would long have ruptured and the world would have divided into camps, essentially the democracies versus the dictatorships.
Long before then, I imagine, there would have been cyber-attack and counter attack, increasingly destructive, and Beijing would have mobilised any Quislings it has to undermine Taiwan’s will to resist.
This is where Taiwan needs to be an “eastern Israel” capable of inflicting massive and asymmetric damage on any invader.
Rightly, Taiwan is preparing itself; but time might not be your friend, as the assumption that it’s still several years before China has the amphibious and the anti-submarine capability to prevail is only a comforting one if Taiwan and its friends are building their capability even faster.
To the extent that there’s a Biden doctrine, post Afghanistan, it’s that America helps those who help themselves. And why not? Because no one could be expected to fight harder for Taiwan than you would be prepared to fight for yourselves.
After seven decades of successful separation, I can’t see the people of Taiwan ever willingly submitting to communist rule from Beijing. Conversely, I can’t see the commissars in Beijing ever accepting that Taiwan should be free.
Beijing will say that Taiwan is no one else’s business; and if other countries make it their business, Beijing will say that it has no designs on anyone else.
It’s the old siren song from the 1930s, as our Prime Minister has recognised: “we have no further territorial ambitions….”
But that’s not how dictatorships operate, and it’s never been how Beijing operates; for millennia before communism, Beijing expected tribute from “all under heaven”; Marxism-Leninism has simply reinforced that age-old exceptionalism and technology has simply extended Beijing’s reach.
I can’t think of a harder decision for an Australian government than the call to defend freedom far from home; except the call to defend freedom close to home with weakened friends and stronger foes.
After 18 months of virus anxiety, verging on hysteria, over the impact of Covid on our old and sick, the last thing anyone wants to contemplate is death from another quarter; but ready or not, China is coming for Taiwan’s freedom, and the best way to avoid the war that no one wants is to be prepared to fight it.
These are difficult times, even daunting times; but the more we think things through, the better they’ll turn out to be.