Prime Minister Anthony Albanese arrived in Tokyo for high-level security talks with the US, India and Japan amid a new political firestorm over whether the US would take military action to defend Taiwan from China.
Albanese and his foreign minister, Penny Wong, landed Monday night for a meeting of the Quadrilateral (Quad) Security Dialogue that will focus on measures aimed at curbing China’s assertiveness in the region.
On the eve of the visit, Albanese was warned by Chinese state media that his approach to the Quad meeting would be seen as a test of his “political wisdom” after the “anti-China strategy” pursued by the Morrison government.
But the call to restore Australia’s strained ties with its biggest trading partner is likely to be immediately tested after US President Joe Biden indicated on Monday that the US would be prepared to intervene militarily to defend Taiwan from Chinese aggression.
Speaking in Tokyo together with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the US president was asked: “Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”
“Yes,” Biden said.
“You are?” the reporter asked again. “That’s the commitment we made,” Biden said, in comments that were seen as a departure from the traditional US position of strategic ambiguity on Taiwan.
The comments put Albanese in a difficult position on one of the most contentious issues in foreign policy, as he signals a diplomatic reset with Australia’s most important allies and highlights the importance of Australia’s partnership with the US.
Just six months ago, Labor criticized then Defense Minister Peter Dutton for telling the Australian newspaper: “It would be inconceivable that we would not support the US in action if the US decides to take such action” on Taiwan.
Wong, then the shadow foreign affairs spokesman, characterized this as out of step with the US policy of strategic ambiguity, though he agreed that the risk of conflict over Taiwan had increased.
“We stick to the long-held bipartisan position on Taiwan, even if Mr. Dutton is moving away from it,” Wong said at the time.
Before the Quad meeting, Albanese said he hoped the relationship with China would “remain difficult” but that the government would pursue Australia’s national interest without politicizing national security.
“The relationship with China will continue to be difficult, I said it before the elections. [and] that has not changed.
“It is China that has changed, not Australia, and Australia must always uphold our values and we will do so in a government that I lead.”
Biden’s comments, which are similar to ones he made last year and which the White House later withdrew, come as Quad members prepare to probe the details of the recently announced Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (Ipef) by US as part of a broader strategy for the region. intended to counter China.
Albanese will have one-on-one meetings with Biden, Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the Quad summit on Tuesday afternoon, all of which are expected to focus on China.
Chinese state media tabloid The Global Times published an op-ed questioning whether Australia’s China policy under Albanese would differ from his predecessor’s “reckless” anti-China stance.
“Their [Albanese’s] Attendance at the Quad summit… is expected to be the first test of the new Australian government’s political wisdom, especially as to whether it could cast off the shadow of Scott Morrison’s previous anti-China strategy that deeply damaged its own economy and trade. ”, the newspaper said.
“Experts remain cautious about how much the new Australian leader’s Chinese policy will differ from Morrison’s reckless moves that served US strategic interests. Especially in the South Pacific island countries, the new Australian government is likely to invest more to compete with China.
“But smearing China’s cooperation with those countries or misrepresenting it as a ‘threat from China’ would not change the course of equal and reciprocal cooperation between China and the Pacific Island countries.”
The op-ed highlighted Albanese’s “little experience in diplomacy” and quoted a researcher at the Guangdong Institute of International Strategies, Zhou Fangyin, offering advice to the incoming prime minister.
“If the new prime minister is smart enough, he would adopt cautious rhetoric and avoid putting Australia’s role in the spotlight, otherwise it would only serve as a bad start for Australia-China relations under the new government,” he said. . .
Albanese said he wanted to use the trip to show his new government’s commitment to the US alliance, which he said remains Australia’s “most important”, along with its other relationships in the region.
“The meetings that we will have, not only with the United States, but also with our hosts in Japan and India, will be very important, in a good way, to send a message to the world that there is a new government in Australia and it is a government that it represents a change, in terms of the way we deal with the world on issues like climate change, but also a continuity in the way we have respect for democracy and the way we value our friendships and years. time alliances.
The Quad summit is likely to finalize a new maritime initiative aimed at tackling Chinese illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific and will also discuss how the four countries can cooperate more closely on cyber challenges and climate change.
Washington has expressed alarm over the recently signed security pact between China and the Solomon Islands, which raised concerns that China was planning to set up a military base 1,700 kilometers northeast of the Queensland coast. China is reportedly seeking similar deals with Kiribati.
The White House has declared that the summit would send a “powerful message” to Beijing about its focus on the Indo-Pacific, which comes after Biden visited South Korea to meet with President Yoon Suk-yeol.
“We think that putting that on display for four days, bilaterally with the ROK and Japan, through the Quad, through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, will send a powerful message. We believe that message will be heard everywhere. We think it will be heard in Beijing,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.