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Kamis, 07 Oktober 2021

Tony Abbott's Taiwan visit attracts criticism from Morrison government ministers - ABC News

This week's historic trip to Taiwan by former prime minister Tony Abbott is causing ripples inside the Morrison government, with some ministers questioning whether the visit is necessary during a time of heightened tensions with China.

While travelling as a "private citizen", Mr Abbott met Taiwan's President Tsai ing-wen in a formal meeting along with Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.

He'll also deliver a keynote address to an international forum in Taipei on Friday.

Although his visit is not considered official, the former prime minister has been accompanied to formal engagements by Australia's top representative to Taiwan, DFAT official Jenny Bloomfield.

Australia does not recognise Taiwan diplomatically, and opinion is divided among government ministers about their former leader's visit to the democratic island.

One Cabinet Minister told the ABC they believed Mr Abbott had been cautioned about making such a high-profile visit given current tensions with China, but conceded the trip was generally well received by Australians.

"It's not completely unhelpful in terms of domestic politics but it is unnecessary," the Minister told the ABC, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Another senior minister who is very supportive of their former leader's activity acknowledged the trip would also be closely watched by Beijing.

Former PM Tony Abbott gestures while speaking at an event with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen
Tony Abbott met Tsai Ing-wen for a formal meeting alongside Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.(

AP: Pool photo

)

On Tuesday Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted Mr Abbott was visiting Taiwan in a private capacity and not relaying any messages on behalf of Australia.

"Tony is in Taiwan as a private citizen, and I didn't have any conversation with him before that… so what he said and what messages he passed on, he passed on in that capacity."

Despite the informal status of the trip, Mr Abbott has been given statesman-like treatment, meeting President Tsai Ing-wen flanked by representatives on both sides and dining with Minister Wu, who described him as a "friend" and a "fair dinkum free-trader" in reference to Mr Abbott's support for Taiwan joining the regional trade pact known as the CPTPP.

Mr Abbott, who congratulated Taiwan on its relatively successful COVID-19 containment efforts while complaining to Ms Tsai about the "wretched masks" required for the meeting, said he hoped to help end Taiwan's marginalisation on the world stage.

"It is in large measure to try to help to end this isolation from which Taiwan has been suffering for so many decades that I am here in this country and I do hope that this will be the first of many visits", he said.

In recent years, Taiwan has been excluded from observer status at the World Health Organization due to China's pressure, and it is excluded from multiple other international bodies including the United Nations.

Mr Abbott also made reference to China, which had flown a record number of military aircraft into Taiwan's Air Defence Identification Zone in recent days.

"I do note that Taiwan is challenged on a near-daily basis by its giant neighbour", he told Ms Tsai.

China's government routinely criticises foreign politicians or organisations that meet Taiwanese government figures due to Beijing's insistence that Taiwan must come under China's control.

State media has described a visit by several French senators to Taipei this week as a "serious provocation".

An Australia-Taiwan relationship 'within limits'

China views President Tsai's government as separatist-leaning because she won't endorse an agreement Beijing made with a previous Taiwanese government in 1992 that affirms both China and Taiwan belong to "One China".

Speaking on Radio National, Foreign Minister Marise Payne reiterated that Australia has a one-China policy but also called Taiwan a "leading democracy" and a "critical partner" for Australia.

The policy recognises there is only one China that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to, but it is deliberately ambiguous so as not to recognise the PRC's claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott sits behind a mic as he waits to speak in a meeting with the Taiwanese president.
Tony Abbott referenced Chinese incursions into Taiwan's air defence zone in his meeting.(

AP: Pool photo

)

Mr Abbott's high-profile visit has received considerable media attention in Taiwan, and comes during tensions with China that a Taiwanese government minister described as being the worst for 40 years.

Mark Harrison, a University of Tasmania specialist on Taiwan, said broader recent efforts by Australia and Taipei to form closer ties "within the parameters of Australia's One China Policy" makes Mr Abbott's visit noteworthy.

"The visit is nominally private but still offers an opportunity to express the intention to strengthen the relationship, especially in the context of Taiwan's application to join the CPTPP," he said.

He pointed out that former foreign political leaders have also met the Taiwanese leader when visiting for forums.

"The Taiwan system is very open and high level access is not unusual", he said.

Tsai Ing-wen noted that Tony Abbott in 2015, as prime minister, met a Taiwan government representative in Canberra, a meeting Dr Harrison believes would be regarded as more important.

"This is a more significant testing of the limits of Australia's One China policy and Beijing was no doubt very displeased", he told the ABC.

There hasn't been any mention of Mr Abbott's visit to Taiwan in China's state-controlled media.

Nor has China's Foreign Ministry representatives been asked about it at daily media briefings due to a public holiday.

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2021-10-07 12:30:15Z
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