Tue. Aug 16th, 2022

But the calamity of Ukraine is not a world apart.

President Zelensky was forthright in answering questions from students. Sympathy is not enough. Opposing aggression and tyranny requires material help: cost and sacrifice.

If the point is ultimately to make the world a better, safer, saner place, that demands commitment – ​​from nations, institutions and individuals – and to recognize there can be a wrong and a right side of history.

Resistance and solidarity matter

Ukraine’s struggle is far from over, and a key question now is one of staying power, for economies and societies as much as for weapons and military positions.

The Australian government must now consider what further we can do to assist Ukraine – including in military equipment – ​​as part of a larger global coalition.

One great lesson of Ukraine’s fight against authoritarian aggression is that resistance and solidarity matter profoundly.

There is no inevitability to the ugly conclusion that might make right; or that nations are billiard balls, responding identically to some pre-ordained physics.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives at Taiwan’s legislature. Getty

If they were, then Ukraine would have fallen by day three and Zelensky would have sought a ride, not ammunition. In our region, the Indo-Pacific, countries such as Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and India would long ago have conceded their contested boundaries to China, while Australia would have meekly accepted the infamous 14-points accompanying China’s campaign of economic pressure.

And Taiwan would long ago have surrendered its democracy.

China’s threatening military moves – including warplane incursions, missile barrages into the sea, and a dress rehearsal of maritime blockade – affirm how real the prospect of war is in our region.

The recent visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can readily be criticized as unwise and ill-timed in terms of diplomacy and stability.

But it provides no justification for Beijing’s massive act of armed intimidation, as the G7 nations have frankly declared, and the Australian government should too.

Let’s not also lose sight of Taiwan, what it is and what it means.

A counsel of despair can also be an invitation to aggression.

This is an Australia-sized community at the heart of Asia, the most successful democratic endeavor in the history of Chinese civilization, one of the most robust democracies in our region, and a vital part of the global economy – including in the critical technology of semiconductors.

Helping Taiwan help itself as an advanced economy and self-ruled democracy is the right thing, for America and Australia for that matter.

The larger lesson from this episode is what it says about risk: how it amplifies the strategic echoes of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to confirm that our global security outlook is dangerous and disrupted, and will remain so for the indefinite future.

This is regardless of how carefully the new Australian government tries to achieve temporary stability in relations with China.

We would be mistaken to imagine that any slight thawing of the Australia-China diplomatic freeze of recent years will fundamentally change our strategic or economic environment.

Taiwan’s fate is our business

Forces are at work in geopolitics far beyond our national choices or rhetoric.

For several years, our external policy debate has been dominated by the bilateral China challenge. Much of the world’s eyes were on Australia as, diplomatically at least, a frontline state in pushing back against political interference, cyber infiltration and economic bullying.

But it would be a conceit to imagine that any of this has occurred in an international vacuum. Our own China debate may thankfully be rebalancing: laws and institutions to protect our sovereignty are now widely accepted, including by many who once questioned the need, but the political drumbeat is more subdued.

Yet the greater China challenge is beyond our shores, and not only through encroachments on the sovereignty of small Pacific nations and potential armed presence in our maritime approaches.

This is a polite way of saying that Taiwan’s fate is our business.

Whatever Australia chooses to do as China threatens Taiwan, our security and economic interests will be profoundly affected.

That is a message the Albanian government will need to share openly with the nation and the business community, sooner rather than later.

The Pelosi drama has the Chinese Communist Party opening its playbook for changing the status quo and taking control of Taiwan.

This includes warlike posturing, but also economic sanctions, sea and air blockade, political interference, cyberattacks, sabotage of critical infrastructure, disinformation, provocative air incursions and seizure of outlying islands.

A foremost challenge for democracies – indeed nations with stakes in a stable order – should be how to counter and deter aggression in that vast gray zone.

A counsel of despair can also be an invitation to aggression – and overlook that the loss of Taiwan would prove the beginning, not the end, of a perilous struggle for security in Asia.

Zelensky’s fight may seem far away, but the messages that should strike us here and now are not just the importance of leadership, defiance and solidarity – but also that we can rely neither on diplomacy nor deterrence alone. Australia urgently needs more of both.

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