Tony Abbott has warned war with China could break out ‘quite soon’ amid mounting tensions with Taiwan

In a speech in Taipei City on Friday, Mr Abbott criticised Beijing for launching ‘intimidatory sorties against Taiwan’ and urged democracies to show ‘solidarity’ with the island of 25million people which lies 161km (100 miles) east of China.

Last weekend Beijing flew 148 aircraft into Taiwan’s ‘air defence zone’ in one of the largest displays of force in recent years.

The Chinese Government believes Taiwan – which has governed itself since the Second World War – is a breakaway province and wants to ‘reunify’ it with the mainland.

In a stark warning that conflict could escalate, Mr Abbott said: ‘Sensing that its relative power might have peaked with its population ageing, economy slowing and finances creaking, it is quite possible that Beijing could lash out disastrously quite soon.

‘Our challenge is to try to make sure that the unthinkable remains unlikely and that the possible does not become the probable.

‘That’s why Taiwan’s friends are so important now, to stress that Taiwan’s future should be decided by its own people and to let Beijing know that any attempt at coercion would have incalculable consequences.’

Mr Abbott said the US and Australia would likely join Taiwan in repelling any Chinese military aggression. 

‘I don’t believe America could stand by and watch [Taiwan] swallowed up.

‘I don’t believe Australia would be indifferent to the fate of a fellow democracy of almost 25million people,’ he said at the annual Yushan forum, a conference organised by the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation.

Mr Abbott spoke after 148 Chinese warplanes flew into Taiwan’s ‘air defence zone’ at the weekend, including 52 which flew in the single-largest mission to date (pictured) 

The former Prime Minister, who led Australia from 2013 to 2015, said he did not attend the summit in 2019 ‘lest that provoke China’.

‘But since then, Beijing has torn-up the ‘one country, two systems’ treaty on Hong Kong; put upwards of a million Uighurs into concentration camps; boosted cyber spying on its own citizens; cancelled popular personalities in favour of a cult of the new red emperor; brutalised Indian soldiers in the Himalayas; coerced other claimants in its eastern seas; and flown ever-more intimidatory sorties against Taiwan,’ he said.

‘It’s weaponised trade, especially against Australia, with our barley, wine and coal exports all stopped on spurious safety grounds, and its embassy has published 14 demands – essentially that we become a tributary state – that no self-respecting country could accept.

‘The trigger was politely seeking an impartial inquiry into the origins of the Wuhan virus. So this year, I’m here, having concluded that China’s belligerence is all self-generated,’ he said. 

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks next to Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday

Tony Abbott signed a free trade deal with President Xi Jinping in 2015 (the pair are pictured in Canberra in 2014) – but he says he would not sign the same agreement today

Mr Abbott said China ‘could hardly succeed while it mistreats its own people and threatens its neighbours’.

‘It could never be admitted to the Trans Pacific Partnership while engaged in a trade war with Australia and in predatory trade all round,’ he said after China applied to join the trade group of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States.

Mr Abbott concluded his 12-minute speech by saying ‘nothing is more pressing right now that solidarity with Taiwan’. 

Earlier Chinese Government-backed newspaper The Global Times warned Australia was becoming a ‘chess piece’ in what it called America’s ‘anti-China strategy’.

‘Abbott is not visiting Taipei in an official capacity, but should a member of the Australian parliament or even an incumbent cabinet minister visit Taiwan in an official capacity, or should Canberra allow the change of the name of ”Taipei Economic and Cultural Offic” into something that violates the one-China principle, the bilateral relations between China and Australia would suffer irreparable damages,’ the article threatened. 

Officially, Taiwan is not recognised as a country under international law but considers itself to be an independent state. 

Western nations have been rushing to reaffirm their support for Taiwan as it faces down threats from an increasingly assertive China. 

Tensions have been building ever since a 2019 speech by President Xi Jinping in which he vowed to ‘reunify’ Taiwan with mainland China – using force if necessary.

He spoke against the backdrop of a rapid expansion of China’s military, including the construction of new bases in the South China Sea – where Taiwan is located and over which Beijing claim supreme authority. 

That has prompted the US – a long-standing ally of Taiwan – to forge new alliances in the region to counter-balance the growing threat.

As well as the AUKUS pact, Biden has entered into a strategic partnership known as The Quad with India, Japan and Australia to share intelligence and carry out joint military drills in the region. 

In a huge show of force to Beijing, the US is also participating in huge naval exercises in the region led by Britain’s newest aircraft carrier – HMS Queen Elizabeth.

‘Big Lizzie’, as she is affectionately known, is currently leading drills with a joint carrier strike group that includes the USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan, along with ships from New Zealand, the Netherlands, Canada and Japan.

The carriers and their escorts have been carrying out drills in the South China Sea, and are expected to arrive in Singapore shortly.

China’s sorties near Taiwan have included nuclear-capable H-6 bombers (pictured) along with fighters and recon planes 

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday vowed to ‘do whatever it takes’ to guard Taiwan against invasion as she indicated that without help from the country’s allies ‘authoritarianism has the upper hand over democracy.’ 

Tsai added: ‘[Democratic nations] should remember that if Taiwan were to fall, the consequences would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic system.

‘It would signal that in today’s global contest of values, authoritarianism has the upper hand over democracy.’ 

Taiwan hopes for peaceful coexistence with China, she said, but ‘if its democracy and way of life are threatened, Taiwan will do whatever it takes to defend itself.’

Tsai’s government on Monday urged Beijing to stop ‘irresponsible provocative actions’ after the warplanes breached Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ). 

‘Amid almost daily intrusions by the People’s Liberation Army, our position on cross-strait relations remains constant: Taiwan will not bend to pressure,’ Tsai added.

China’s grievances with Australia 

In November China warned it will become Australia’s ‘enemy’ and released a dossier outlining 14 grievances with the government.

The dossier was released to the media by the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, containing accusations ranging from ‘racist attacks against Asian people’ to siding with the ‘United States’ anti-China campaign’.   

1.’Incessant wanton interference in China’s Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan affairs’

2. ‘Siding with the US’ anti-China campaign and spreading misinformation’

3. ‘Thinly veiled allegations against China on cyber attacks without any evidence’

4.  ‘An unfriendly or antagonistic report on China by media’

5. Providing funding to ‘anti-China think tank for spreading untrue reports’ 

6. ‘Foreign interference legislation’

7. ‘Foreign investment decisions’

8. ‘Banning Huawei technologies and ZTE from the 5G network’

9. ‘Politicisation and stigmatisation of the normal exchanges and coorperation between China and Australia’

10. Making statements ‘on the South China Sea to the United Nations’

11. ‘Outrageous condemnation of the governing party of China by MPs and racist attacks against Chinese or Asian people’ 

12. ‘The early drawn search and reckless seizure of Chinese journalists’ homes and properties’  

13. Calls for an independent inquiry into Covid-19

14. ‘Legislation to scrutinise agreements with a foreign government’