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A major strategic crisis is brewing across the Taiwan Strait, one which threatens to be significantly more serious than earlier crises of the 1950s and mid-1990s. Current tensions between China and Taiwan, and the fear that a major conflict could erupt, are generally attributed to Beijing’s growing assertiveness. However, these tensions are ultimately the product of changes in the dynamics of the triangular relationship between China, Taiwan and the United States and, most importantly, the balance of military power underpinning those ties. These tensions have sparked renewed debate in Australia over whether conflict would trigger Australia’s obligations under the ANZUS alliance.

Australian policymakers should be doing much more to head off the possibility of a Taiwan conflict, heeding the diplomacy of the Menzies government during the 1954–55 Taiwan Strait Crisis. Given the high stakes involved, this policy brief argues for a more activist Australian diplomacy in advocating crisis management and avoidance mechanisms designed both to reduce the risk of inadvertent conflict and to manage a full-blown Taiwan crisis. 

Key findings:

  • Tensions between Taiwan and China are rising, driven in part by an increasingly assertive government in Beijing, growing Taiwanese estrangement from the Chinese mainland, and deteriorating US–China relations.
  • If key regional governments fail to help de-escalate tensions, the consequences are likely to be serious.
  • Rather than continue the debate about Australia’s position on its ANZUS obligations should the United States invoke the treaty in a Taiwan conflict, Australia should work with other regional powers to advocate for more robust risk avoidance and crisis management mechanisms.


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