Kevin Rudd, a former prime minister of Australia, said China would wait to take over Taiwan. Photo: CFA Institute

HONG KONG – China will not attack Taiwan in the immediate future, but it could in the coming decade when Beijing is more ready for a war, according to an ex-prime minister of Australia.

“There is a lot of wild talk about an impending military crisis over Taiwan … but at this stage, I do not see the evidence of an immediate crisis in the Taiwan Strait,” former premier Kevin Rudd said in an online panel discussion at the Alpha Summit organized by the CFA Institute on Tuesday.

“I don’t think the Chinese are ready for such conflict at this stage, purely from a military calculus,” Rudd said. “It’s more probable that we’re going to face real difficulties in the Taiwan question towards the end of this decade when China calculates that the balance of power is going to be more decisively in its court.”

He said there was a risk of military conflict between China and Taiwan in the medium term, but not immediately.

While Rudd spoke, the US Navy’s 7th Fleet on Tuesday deployed its Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur in what it said was a “routine Taiwan Strait transit.”

“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the 7th Fleet said in a statement.

On Wednesday (May 19), a spokesman for China’s Eastern Theatre Command condemned the US vessel’s passage.

“The US actions send the wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces, deliberately disrupting the regional situation and endangering peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” he said.

Chinese forces tracked and monitored the ship throughout its voyage, he added.

In February, Rudd wrote in an article that China was going to take Taiwan within the next 10 years as Chinese President Xi Jinping had ambitions to keep the US military out of the Taiwan Strait.

He said Beijing had begun to realize that a “peaceful unification” with Taiwan was becoming less likely after the “one country, two systems” formula was undermined by its perceived mishandling of Hong Kong.

A Republic of China (Taiwan) Air Force F-16 fighter aircraft (L) flying alongside a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force H-6K bomber that reportedly flew over the Bashi Channel, south of Taiwan, and over the Miyako Strait, near Japan’s Okinawa Island, in a drill in 2018. Photo: AFP/Taiwan Defense Ministry

Since late 2020, military tensions between the US and China in the Taiwan Strait have been rising due to the Trump administration’s increased arms sales and diplomatic visits to Taiwan. Tensions have not eased under the Joe Biden administration.

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said on April 11 that the US was concerned about China’s aggressive actions against Taiwan. Blinken warned it would be a “serious mistake” for anyone to try to change the status quo in the Western Pacific by force.

The US-China relationship would continue to deteriorate in the coming decade as the two countries’ long-term geopolitical aspirations were incompatible, Rudd said. It was unlikely that the decoupling in technology between the two powers would unfold as both countries would have their own supply chains, he said.

“There is only one thing worse than having two thousand-pound gorillas in a living room and they decided to have a disagreement,” Rudd said, adding that neighboring countries were like furniture in the room that could be easily damaged.

He said many “third-countries” in the Asia-Pacific region would like to dance with both China and the US, which could provide them with money and security, respectively. However, he said it would not be an easy task to be an ally of the US while maintaining a trade and investment relationship with China at the same time.

“If you are going to disagree with China, it’d be better to disagree collectively than individually,” Rudd said.

Strategic ambiguity

On March 9, Philip Davidson, the top US military officer in the Asia-Pacific, said in a US Senate armed services committee hearing that China could invade Taiwan within the next six years. Davidson said the expansion of China’s military assets in the region would create an unfavorable situation for the US.

During the hearing, Davidson was asked by Republican Rick Scott, who recently introduced the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act to the Senate, about whether the US would end its policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding Taiwan. Davidson said merely that the policy had kept Taiwan in its current status.

Miles Yu, an adviser to the former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, said in an interview last week that the policy of strategic ambiguity meant that the US had a clear Taiwan policy, but would not openly explain it. Yu said it was clear that the US, together with its allies, would swiftly react if anyone tried to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait by force.

“Beijing should not exaggerate about the situation in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwanese are not pushing for independence or reunification with the mainland,” Yu said. “Maintaining the status quo fulfills the benefit of the Taiwan people.”

A man walks next to a sign at the Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchange and Services in Taipei on July 1, 2020. Photo: AFP/Sam Yeh

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government announced on Tuesday it was temporarily suspending operations of the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office in Taiwan with immediate effect.

However, it did not explain the reason for closing the office, but said the decision had nothing to do with the Covid-19 situation on the island. It called on Hong Kong residents who need help to call the SAR’s service hotlines or visit its website.

Hong Kong’s office started operations in Taipei in 2011 and has been responsible for handling inquiries from residents in Taiwan as well as holding business and cultural exchanges.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said it “deeply regrets the Hong Kong government’s unilateral decision” and vowed to keep its own office in the financial hub open despite strained ties.

Taiwanese officials have struggled to get visas to work in Hong Kong over the past few years.

From Monday, Hong Kong said non-local residents from Taiwan would be denied entry due to public health reasons. Taiwan also said non-local residents would be denied entry from Wednesday until June 18.