Former prime minister Tony Abbott has lashed China as a bully and says the “struggle between liberty and tyranny” is the starkest in the world between Beijing and Taiwan.
In a keynote address at the Yushan Forum in Taipei on Friday, Abbott said now was the time for support for Taiwan.
“I don’t believe America could stand by and watch China swallow [Taiwan] up. I don’t believe Australia should be indifferent to the fate of a fellow democracy of almost 25 million people,” he said.
“Nothing is more pressing right now than solidarity with Taiwan if we want a better world.”
China considers Taiwan its own territory and speaks of plans to unite it with the mainland by force if necessary. Taiwan says it is a separate country that will defend its freedoms.
Abbott said it was “possible” that China “could lash out disastrously quite soon”.
“Our challenge is to try to ensure the unthinkable remains unlikely and the possible doe not become the probable,” he said.
Abbott stressed that two years ago he would not have spoken at the Taiwanese forum because his comments might have “provoked China” but events such as China tearing up its treaty with Hong Kong, its human rights violations, and China’s weaponisation of trade against Australia had since changed his view.
“This year I am here having concluded that China’s belligerence is all self-generated,” Abbott said.
When prime minister between 2013 to 2015 Abbott said he was prepared for Australia join the Chinese-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, telling Friday’s forum he had believed it “would help to give China a stake in a rules-based global order”.
“So for Beijing, surely there’s a lesson here, the more freedom its people have the better they have done and the more respect China has gained,” Abbott said. “Be a friend, that experience shows and you’ll have friends, be a bully and you’ll only have clients who can’t wait to escape.”
He also expressed alarm that Australia’s AUKUS submarine deal was met with threatening commentary from a Beijing foreign policy analyst.
“So if the drums of war can be heard in our region, as an official of ours has noted, it’s not Australia that’s beating them,” Abbott said. “The only drums we beat are for justice and freedom, for all people in China and in Taiwan to make their own decisions about their lives and their futures.”
But he said collaboration and opportunities to rebuild trust were still possible.
“For a democratic world that means a readiness to support this fellow democracy including by welcoming Taiwan into the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Abbott said.
“And for China too, which can hardly succeed while it mistreats its own people and threatens its neighbours, that means scaling back the aggression. As it could never be admitted to the TPP while engaged in a trade war with Australia and in predatory trade all round.”
Abbott travelled to also meet Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu this week.
Asked about Abbott’s travels, prime minister Scott Morrison said he was in Taiwan as “a private citizen”.
“I didn’t have any conversation with him before [he arrived],” Morrison said on Thursday.
“Tony is there as a private citizen. So what he said and what messages he passed on, he passed on in that capacity.”
A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Australia hit back at Abbott’s remarks and described him as a “failed and pitiful politician”.
“His recent despicable and insane performance in Taiwan fully exposed his hideous anti-China features. This will only further discredit him,” a statement said.