China’s ambassador to Australia has warned Beijing is prepared to use “all necessary means” to prevent Taiwan from being independent, saying there can be “no compromise” on the “one China” policy.
Xiao Qian on Wednesday repeatedly blamed the US for the recent escalation in tensions. China’s decision to launch ballistic missiles in live-fire exercises in response to speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was “legitimate and justified”, he told the National Press Club in Canberra.
Xiao said after a “good start” with the newly elected Albanese government, “there is an opportunity for a possible reset of relationship” between China and Australia.
He said China was ready to solve trade disputes through the World Trade Organization or “if the new government in this country is ready, to discuss it bilaterally”.
The comments echo an olive branch from Australia’s trade minister, Don Farrell, suggesting that a “compromise situation” or “alternative way” might emerge in trade talks between the two countries.
Since Labor’s election in May, the defence minister, Richard Marles, and the foreign minister, Penny Wong, have both met their Chinese counterparts, the beginning of a thaw in relations that soured over nine years of Coalition government.
But in recent days, Wong has expressed deep concern about China’s launch of ballistic missiles into waters around Taiwan’s coastline, prompting a rebuke from China that Australia had “condemned the victim along with the perpetrators”.
On Wednesday, ambassador Xiao said it was “the US side that should and must take full responsibility for the escalation of tensions in the Taiwan Strait”.
The drills reflected “a determination to show that on the question of Taiwan, there’s no room for compromise”.
“It’s not something, like, economic development or trade relations or issues in some other areas. On the question of Taiwan, it’s an issue relating to sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Xiao rejected the language of a possible “invasion” of Taiwan by noting China’s policy reflected in “UN resolutions [and] bilateral documents between China and Australia” was that Taiwan was not an “independent state” but rather a province of China.
“It’s an issue of reunification, complete reunification, and … of Taiwan coming back to the motherland.” Use of force was the last thing China wanted, as it was “waiting for a peaceful reunification”, he said.
“But we cannot, we can never rule out the option to use other means, so when necessary, when compelled, we are ready to use all necessary means.
“As to what does it mean, ‘all necessary means’? You can use your imagination, but … [the] Chinese people are absolutely determined to protect our sovereignty, territorial integrity, we will never allow Taiwan to be separated from China.”
Asked about China’s ambassador to France suggesting the Taiwanese people could be “re-educated”, Xiao said he was not aware of an “official policy” but his “personal understanding” was “there might be a process for the people in Taiwan to have a correct understanding of China about the motherland”.
Xiao described an incident in which China performed what Australia described as a “dangerous manoeuvre” against a maritime surveillance flight in international airspace in the South China Sea region as “very unfortunate”.
But he said the incident occurred in a “location that is within the territorial space of an island that belongs to China” – which Australia rejects – likening the incident to someone “carrying a gun and trying to peep into your windows to see what you’re doing”.
Xiao said China wanted a “a friendly cooperative relationship between Australia and China … free from interference from a third party” – suggesting the US had turned Australia against China.
After “political difficulties” there would be “a process for us to reset and gradually improve our relationship”, he said.
Asked about trade disputes and the possible release of Australian citizen Cheng Lei, Xiao noted there had been “top-level communications” between Australia and China but the two countries had “not yet come to the stage to discuss how to solve those specific issues, either political issues or trade issues or some other individual cases”.
“We’re ready to compare notes with the new government and to get engaged in the process.”
Prof Rory Medcalf argued the comments amounted to an “admission” trade disputes and the detention of Australians were “leverage tactics”.
Xiao claimed the “couple of Australian citizens in China that are under custody according to Chinese rules and laws” have had “their basic rights well protected”.
Nevertheless, he conceded Australian prisoners did not have consular access due to Covid and trials involving national security, like Cheng Lei’s, were secret.
Xiao claimed there was “no intention for China to set up the so-called military base in Solomon Islands”, despite the two countries signing an agreement that would allow it. He noted the Solomon Islands prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, had similarly ruled it out.
Earlier, Marles told reporters in Canberra that while the Australian government had changed, “our national interest hasn’t”.