Australia, China, and the Indo-Pacific: A Discussion with Tony Abbott, 28th Prime Minister of Australia
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After the Honourable Tony Abbott’s recent speech in Taiwan raised hackles in Beijing and garnered headlines around the world, he travelled to Washington, where he is holding a series of meetings on U.S.-Australia relations, China, and the Indo-Pacific. In this discussion, Abbott discussed both trips and prospects for the Quad, AUKUS, and the construction of a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific.
- Taiwan's democratic values can be bolstered by international and multilateral solidarity. Abbott suggested that admittance into the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be one concrete gesture that diplomatic partners could take.
- Defense capabilities for Australia are taking into account China’s strategic priorities. Abbott believes that climate should be handled strategically in light of the growing competitive dimensions of the Australia-China multilateral relationship.
- Civil Society’s re-emphasis of inclusivity is key. Abbott emphasized the attractiveness of Australian jobs and universities to Chinese emigres and diaspora, and emphasized the need to watch the ideological pressure Chinese government entities place on diaspora abroad.
"I think it’s pretty clear China is not going to cooperate on climate change. That’s one of the reasons I think western countries should be careful about turning their economies upside down to reduce emissions when China is almost certain not to take commensurate action itself. Now, we all want to protect the planet, it’s the only planet that we’ve got, we all want to get emissions down as far and as fast as we can. But, if that means unreliable and extremely expensive power, if it means heavy industry migrating to other countries that are less fastidious about emissions, I think we have to be extremely careful particularly given the growing strategic competition with China. So, I think it’s obvious that China will never do more than pretend to play ball on climate change because for China, at least under Xi Jinping, the mind game is strategic domination."
"I think it’s important for democracies everywhere to do what they can to show solidarity with Taiwan at this time. Certainly, one way of showing solidarity with Taiwan at this time would be to admit Taiwan into the Trans Pacific Partnership. It's applied to join, it is a free and a fair trader, it accepts the ordinary rules of commerce, the sanctity of contract, et cetera. It's prepared to operate under the Trans Pacific Partnership rules. So, let's have Taiwan in. Now, as I say Taiwan is the frontline of freedom. China is stepping up its intimidation of Taiwan all the time. In the few days before my visit, there was something like 150 Chinese war planes dispatched into the Taiwanese air zones. I expect that this will get more intense, I expect that this kind of thing will move closer to Taiwan itself. The big challenge for the democracies is what do we do in response? I think we need to be prepared to think the unthinkable. I think it's entirely possible that at some point in time, perhaps quite soon, China might up the ante. Either with a blockade of the so called rebel province to teach the Taiwanese that they cannot go on as they are. They need to make some kind of an accommodation with Beijing or perhaps even a full scale invasion. I think it's that serious, and I don't think it is safe to assume that this might not happen for years or decades."
"One of I think key questions, that all of us who watch China, who are impacted by China have been thinking about trying to understand, has been what is behind China's more assertive behavior that we've seen in recent years? We've heard a lot of different explanations for it. I can tell you, give you what I think but I'm interested in what you think as well. In terms of what's driving their behavior, to me, there's clearly a domestic political piece of it with Xi Jinping trying to set the stage for his, what some call re-re-election, I call re-selection to a third and probably lifetime appointment as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Trying to use that tension to drive people to rally around the flag. But in addition to that, I think that Xi and the others in leadership in China see China as increasingly powerful, see the United States as both embroiled in a competition with China, but also as a declining power, that the competition is not only economic and military, but it's fundamentally over ideology in our systems, and that time is on their side. The trends, the broader geopolitical trends are in China's favor."
The Honorable Tony Abbott
Kissinger Institute on China and the United States
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