Australia Conference at NCCU

An International Conference on Australia and Cross-Straits Economic Relation, organised by the College of International Affairs, was held at National Chengchi University today. The conference included scholars from Australia and Taiwan discussing Australia’s relations with Taiwan and China as well as links with ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific region.

Acting Representative of the Australian Commerce and Industry Office, Richard Matthews, gave a brief welcoming speech. He noted that both Taiwan and China were important trading partners for Australia. Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrew Hsia (夏立言), also welcomed participants. He said the Australia Studies Centre at NCCU was founded in 2002 and it has held eight international conferences. The centre has enhanced understanding of Australia and Australia is a good friend of Taiwan.

Marc Williams, a professor of international relations at the University of New South Wales, gave the keynote speech on the topic of the WTO and Global Governance. This set the tone for the conference where bilateral and multilateral trade agreements were a common theme.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was a focus of several papers. Rudd’s foreign policy expertise combined with his Mandarin speaking abilities and connections with China and Taiwan invited much analysis.

Professor Michael Wesley of Griffith University gave a presentation on the Rudd government’s foreign policy. He said that the Howard government shifted Australia’s foreign policy away from its tradition of multilateralism to a “pragmatic bilateralism” with a particular emphasis on the US-Australia alliance. The Rudd government sought to maintain the US-Australia relationship, but also sought to shift back to a policy of multilateralism and strengthening ties with Asia.

I asked Professor Wesley about how Rudd viewed the Australia-Taiwan relationship. He responded that Rudd was a believer in the One China principle and won’t depart from almost 40 years of bipartisan policy on this matter. The Taiwan relationship is regarded as important, but the government won’t do anything that would upset China. He also noted that APEC, an organisation that was initiated by Australia, is one of the few international organisations were both Taiwan and China are full members. This was done by simultaneously bringing in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan as “member economies”. This could be a good model for Taiwan’s participation in other regional organisations.

Liou To-hai (劉德海), Professor of Diplomacy and Director of the Center for Australian Studies at NCCU, talked about Rudd’s proposal for an Asia Pacific Community by 2020. When Rudd announced this in June 2008 the Bush Administration was not interested but China gave a positive response. If Rudd is able to persuade President Obama to support the idea and combine this with support from Japan and India then it may be achievable.

Marc Williams presented a paper on the competition between China and Taiwan for diplomatic allies in the Pacific. This has been a source of tension in relations between Australia and Taiwan in recent years. One notable Australian journalist has said that chequebook diplomacy by Taiwan and China is a destabilising force and fosters corruption in Pacific Island states.

Yu Te-sun (于德勝), Director General of the Asia Pacific Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responded to Williams’ paper. He said that both Taiwan and Australia have good intentions in providing aid. Taiwan has tried to coordinate more with Australian and New Zealand aid agencies, but this was limited because of Taiwan’s position in the international community. He noted that Australia and Taiwan are both committed to democracy, while China is more of a threat to regional security.

Other papers presented included Australia-ASEAN economic relations and industrial relations under Rudd. The conference provided many insights into Australia’s relationship with Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific region.