Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Taiwan Straits

As a New Zealander living in Australia for some time now, the most disturbing and opaque question about Australian foreign policy has been their reaction to any conflict over the Taiwan straits. This is related to the issue of what an American reaction would be, and is presumably the subject of much 'interagency process' in both capitals.

It's been a relief to see tension over the Straits subside slightly this year.

Apparently the Australian Defense Minister made a very interesting and, to me, surprising comment at the Lowy Institute this week. I am looking forward to the podcast appearing.

Finally, he made one comment which has not been picked up in the media coverage but which I thought was notable. In the context of talking about Australia’s capabilities and possible deployments, Fitzgibbon said: ‘If there were miscalculations in the Taiwan Straits, for example, we’d be expected, I think, to play our role.’

That statement seemed to be a clearer official indication that we are used to getting from Australian ministers that Australia would likely participate in a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. He later noted, I should say, that cross-Strait tensions have decreased of late, which has lessened the chance of such miscalculation. Furthermore, as a colleague observed to me, ‘would be expected to’ is not the same as ‘would’. Nevertheless, it’s a small insight into the new government’s thinking.

Presumably New Zealand's stance is "like hell we'll 'play our role'"????????????

Of course one could ask what is meant by 'play our role' just as much as by 'would be expected to'.

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