TAIPEI, Taiwan (WNN) — A former Australian prime minister has accused China of bullying and expressed enthusiastic support for Taiwan while visiting the democratically governed island.
“There is nothing more than solidarity with Taiwan,” former Prime Minister Tony Abbott told a conference in Taiwan on Friday.
The Chinese government is trying to isolate Taiwan, which it claims to be its territory. It has intensified military oppression of the island by flying fighter jets toward Taiwan, with a particularly large show of force beginning last Friday and continuing through this week.
Abbott’s remarks were to a conference organized by a think-tank backed by the Taiwanese government. The Australian government has said that his visit to Taiwan is informal.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen began the stage with a more restrained speech, barring any direct mention of China.
It did not mention China, but said, “Taiwan is fully committed to cooperating with regional players to prevent armed conflict in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.”
Abbott said that two years ago, for fear of provoking Beijing, he hesitated to attend a meeting called the Yushan Forum.
Until recently, China was Australia’s largest market for the export of coal and other commodities.
Things have changed since then, he said, with Beijing taking control of Hong Kong and “arms” trade against Australia.
Beijing has imposed official and unofficial trade barriers against exports including Australian wine, coal and barley, following calls by Australia for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, which was first reported in Wuhan in December 2019, essentially was stopping the import of these products.
Abbott said the Chinese embassy in Australia had issued a list of demands that essentially demanded that “we become a subsidiary state.”
“Be a friend, and you’ll have friends, be a bully and you’ll only have customers who can’t wait to escape,” Abbott said.
He added, however, that “collaboration is still possible, and trust can still be built.”
Abbott said the most important thing is to ensure Taiwan’s self-determination; Chinese leaders have said they are determined to unite the island and the mainland by force if necessary.
“Our challenge is to try to ensure that the unimaginable is not likely and is not possible,” Abbott said.
“That’s why Taiwan’s friends are so important now, to emphasize that Taiwan’s future must be decided by its own people and to tell Beijing that any coercive effort will have countless consequences.”
Abbott is the first of three prime ministers to lead Australia’s conservative coalition government since being first elected in 2013.
He hosted the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Australia in 2014 and was the leader of the government when the bilateral free trade agreement with China was finalised. The deal took effect in 2015 after Abbott was replaced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who addressed the same Taiwan Forum online last year.
Abbott represented Australia this year as a Special Trade Envoy for India. He angered Beijing in August when he described a potential Australia-India free trade agreement as a sign of “the democratic world’s shift away from China”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday that Abbott had visited Taiwan as a private citizen and did not receive any messages from the current government.
However the government exempted them from traveling from a pandemic travel ban that keeps most Australians at home.
Abbott was accompanied by Australia’s top diplomat in Taiwan, Jenny Bloomfield, as reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
ABC reported that some unnamed Australian government ministers questioned whether the visit was necessary at a time of rising tensions with China.