Growing Chinese influence should be a major concern for Canberra, Taiwan's top diplomat said
A senior Taiwanese official has urged Australia and other "like-minded" countries to be wary of Chinese military ambitions in the Indo-Pacific, citing a recent security pact signed with the Solomon Islands and Beijing's alleged creeping "authoritarianism" in the region.
Speaking during an interview with Australia's SBS News on Friday, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu argued that China had expanded its influence into Canberra's sphere of interest, calling on local officials to devote more energy to the alleged threat.
"The like-minded countries like the United States and Australia and Japan need to pay more attention to the Chinese military activities in the Pacific," he said. "It is right at your doorstep and I'm sure any military presence by China in the Solomons Islands is going to be your great concern."
Wu's comments come soon after Beijing signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, a Pacific nation located about 1,000 miles (1,700km) from Australia's northeast coast. Officials in Canberra have condemned the move, claiming China wants to use the agreement to establish a military foothold in the area.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently stated that a Chinese military base on the Solomons would constitute a "red line," though later clarified that Australia would simply "work with partners to ensure that that type of an outcome would be prevented." He did not specify exactly how that would be achieved, however, saying it would be "unwise" to speculate about what steps Australia and its allies might take.
Asked whether Australia's efforts to prevent the security deal had been a "failure," Wu replied in the negative, saying the "Chinese military hasn't shown up in the Solomon Islands yet."
"But the military presence, if this becomes a reality... I'm sure that is going to be a very serious security concern of the Australian government," the Taiwanese diplomat added, warning that China would continue to "expand its influence into the Pacific."
Beijing has repeatedly denied any intention of building a base on the Solomons, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian calling the claim a "rumor" and "pure disinformation," also arguing the deal with the islands is "is open, transparent and not targeted at any third party."
Wu said he would like Taiwan to "work closer" with partners in the region to counter China - which considers the island part of its sovereign territory - but declined to say whether Taipei would directly request Australian military aid, stating only that the Taiwanese are "determined to defend ourselves." Still, he voiced hopes that Canberra could help "to prevent a crisis from taking place" - apparently referring to a potential Chinese incursion - and that "If there's a need for additional assistance, the Australian support for Taiwan is going to be appreciated."