Australia has called for a calming of tensions in the South China Sea as fears continue to mount that China may spark a war over Taiwan. Along with the US and Japan, Australian foreign minister Penny Wong called on Beijing to “immediately cease” military exercises around Taiwan. Taiwan’s foreign minister has said the Chinese drills off his nation’s shores show Beijing is “preparing for the invasion of Taiwan”.
Beijing, which views the democratic island nation as a Chinese province, sent warships and aircraft across the median line of the Taiwan Strait last week.
The drills were in protest at the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s highly controversial visit to Taiwan.
Australia, which said the military drills were an overreaction to Ms Pelosi’s trip, risks being dragged into a potential conflict in the South China Sea, a US expert has warned.
Dr John Callahan is a former diplomat and State Department spokesperson, who now works as a military adviser and a dean at New England College in the US.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, he said: “I think Australia is under threat. The Chinese are pushing hard in Papua New Guinea and of course, the places with high Chinese populations like Malaysia and Singapore.
“Singapore wouldn’t go communist because their whole way of life would end but I think the whole area around the South China Sea all the way down to Australia is under threat for sure.
“The US is going to base troops and marines in Australia again, because that puts them outside of the immediate ballistic missile range.
“Because our bases in Japan and Guam are in ballistic missile range, but Australia, or at least where we would put them, would not be.
“So yes, there is a lot of tension right now.”
On Monday, Ms Wong hit out at China’s firing of missiles amid the ongoing military drills around Taiwan.
China, which warned Australia over its involvement in the region before, issued its latest threat on Saturday.
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Australia hit out at the country for criticising its activities near Taiwan.
They said: “It is absolutely unacceptable for the finger-pointing on China’s justified actions to safeguard state sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“We firmly oppose and sternly condemn this.”
The US has maintained a position of “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan, meaning it has generally been vague about whether it would step in to defend the island nation if it was attacked by China.
However, Australia is likely to be called upon in the event of such a war, according to the nation’s shadow defence minister Andrew Hastie.
Speaking to ABC’s ‘Insiders’ last week, he claimed that it was right to protect a neighbour.
He said: “If there was a conflict around Taiwan, whether we’re involved directly or indirectly on the periphery, we would certainly be in the gun.
“That’s why we need to build our deterrence strength, that’s why we need to exercise exceptional political leadership, diplomatic leadership.”