An American Perspective on Australia’s Approach to the Taiwan Strait
Is there a role for Australia to play in preventing conflict in the Taiwan Strait? Brendan Taylor, professor of strategic studies at Australian National University, tackles this question in a recent policy brief for the Lowy Institute. In sum, Taylor argues that Canberra should proactively advocate for “crisis management and avoidance mechanisms designed both to reduce the risk of inadvertent conflict and to manage a bull-blown Taiwan crisis.” Whether and how Australia can usefully shape cross-Strait dynamics in scenarios short of war receives too little attention in Washington and, according to Taylor, in Canberra. This paper, then, is a valuable contribution to the scholarship surrounding one of Asia’s most complex, most dangerous flashpoints. Yet, while Taylor’s case for a more “activist” Australian approach to the Taiwan Strait is convincing, his recommendations are more restrained than Australian interests merit.
Why Taiwan Matters
In his policy brief, Taylor focuses on why a cross-Strait “crisis” (by which he means armed conflict) would be detrimental for Australia. His primary concern appears to be the economic repercussions, which is understandable given China’s role as Australia’s largest trading partner. “A serious Chinese economic downturn,” which a war with the United States over Taiwan’s fate would bring about, “would almost certainly trigger a recession [in Australia].” Elsewhere in the paper, Taylor highlights Taiwan’s role as “a critical link in global supply chains” and notes that Taiwan’s East Asian neighbors—important economic partners for Australia—would be negatively affected by a conflict involving Taiwan. “Major conflict could swiftly reverse this region’s economic miracle, triggering an Australian recession given our considerable trade dependence upon China, with serious consequences for the Australian economy and standard of living.”