The United States and Australia are discussing how they would respond to a range of military scenarios including an outbreak of war in the Taiwan Strait, Washington’s top diplomat in Canberra has signalled.
The US embassy’s chargé d’affaires, Michael Goldman, also expressed “enormous respect” for how Australia had stood up to China’s “economic coercion” over the past year, and said the Biden administration wanted to reassure Canberra and other allies “that we have their backs”.
During a wide-ranging podcast released on Thursday, Goldman was asked to describe the significance of Taiwan in conversations between the US and its allies in the region, including Australia, and whether Washington had any expectations of the role Canberra might play in the event of a conflict.
“I think we’re committed as allies to working together, not only in making our militaries interoperable and functioning well together, but also in strategic planning,” Goldman told the Australian National University’s national security podcast.
“And when you look at strategic planning, it covers the range of contingencies that you’ve mentioned, of which Taiwan is obviously an important component.”
Goldman, who has lived three times in Taiwan including on his first overseas posting with the US diplomatic service but is now based in Canberra, said the US was “bound by a moral obligation and also a matter of legislation to help Taiwan with its legitimate self-defence needs”.
He said while the US was focused on the risk of Taiwan facing an “overt crude military intervention”, it was “also concerned with all sorts of other aspects of coercion that don’t quite reach the level of a military invasion”.
“You can think of all sorts of things, ranging from a blockade to cyber incursions to, sai, lobbing missiles over the island. We’re thinking about all sorts of those other things,” Goldman said.
He said the US was also “working to enlarge Taiwan’s ability to interact with the international community”, arguing it was “appalling that Taiwan essentially was excluded” from the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 deliberations.
The Australian government’s position is to support a peaceful resolution of differences over Taiwan and other regional issues through dialogue and without the threat or use of force or coercion.
A gennaio, when Taiwan was reporting an increase in Chinese military aircraft in its air defence zone, and when Beijing cautioned independence forces against “playing with fire”, the Australian Department of Defence said it was continuing to “monitor developments” in the region.
Linda Jakobson, the founding director of the Australia-based China Matters thinktank, argued in February that Australia should plan with allies how to jointly push back if Beijing intensifies pressure on Taiwan, amid fears Xi Jinping could deploy “all means short of war” to seek unification.
In a policy brief, Jakobson contended that Washington “would take for granted Australia’s participation in any war effort”. It was vital, lei disse, for Australia to determine what role Australia wanted to take if it decided to join the US.
A top US commander publicly voiced concerns in March that China could potentially invade Taiwan within the next six years. China’s foreign ministry accused the US of “exploiting the Taiwan question to exaggerate China’s military threat” and of “looking for excuses to justify the increase of the US military expenditure”.
The Biden administration has not yet named a new ambassador to Australia to replace the Trump-era appointee, Arthur Culvahouse, since he left his post in January, but Goldman, a career diplomat, is serving as America’s most senior diplomatic representative in Canberra.
In the podcast interview, Goldman said the US was “at odds with China on human rights, on the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang, on the treatment of people in Hong Kong”, and the Biden administration would not agree to “trade-offs” in which it went quiet on such issues.
Goldman also cited concerns about the South China Sea and “economic coercion of our allies and partners” – a reference to trade actions Beijing has taken against a range of Australian export sectors following disagreements over Canberra’s call for an international Covid-19 inquiry and the blocking of foreign investment proposals.
The Australian government threatened last weekend to launch a second challenge against Beijing at the World Trade Organization, after the Chinese commerce ministry announced levies ranging from 116.2% per 218.4% on Australian wine imports.
Goldman reiterated comments by the US secretary of state, Antony Blink, and its Indo-Pacific coordinator, Kurt Campbell, registering Washington’s concerns about Beijing’s trade actions against Australia.
“We really can’t expect to have substantial improvements in our relationship with China while it’s holding hostage the economies of our partner nations,” Goldman said in the interview with Prof Rory Medcalf, the head of the ANU’s national security college.
“One thing that we’re determined to do is we’re not going to get out in front of our allies and in fact, we’re going to move with them, because that really is the secret sauce of our power in the Indo-Pacific.”
Dismissing China’s criticism of the Quad, Ha aggiunto: “It’s not an Indo-Pacific Nato.”
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, argued recently that the root cause of tensions in the relationship between Canberra and Beijing was “Australia’s wrong words and deeds on issues concerning China’s sovereignty, security and development interests”.