Australian PM Morrison stands by 'one country' remark on China, Taiwan

Prime Minister Scott Morrison doubled down on comments that Australia's Taiwan policy was guided by China's "one country, two systems" framework. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Prime Minister Scott Morrison doubled down on comments that Australia's Taiwan policy was guided by China's "one country, two systems" framework, a possible policy shift that would be viewed as a concession to Beijing.

Morrison has reaffirmed remarks made May 6 in which he said Australia followed a "one country, two systems" approach to Taiwan - a governing system used in Hong Kong that's widely unpopular in Taipei. Asked by SBS News on Wednesday (May 12) whether he had made a mistake, Morrison repeated the assertion.

"What we know is that we have a situation with China where we've recognised - we've recognised - how they see these relationships within the region, and particularly in relation to Taiwan, formerly Hong Kong and things of that nature," Morrison told SBS.

"And so Australia understands that and that's always been the basis of our policies."

Such a stance would represent a shift in the US ally's longstanding policy of "strategic ambiguity" toward Taiwan's status.

Similar to the US, Australia has for for almost five decades recognised the People's Republic as China's sole legal government, while merely acknowledging Beijing's position that Taiwan was part of its territory - commonly referred to as a "One China" policy.

The "one country, two systems" framework, on the other hand, is Chinese President Xi Jinping's preferred framework for absorbing Taiwan under Communist Party control.

The concept, which has governed Hong Kong since its return to Chinese rule in 1997, has grown increasingly unpopular in Taiwan due to Beijing's efforts to roll back democratic freedoms in the Asian financial centre.

A request to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Friday requesting clarification of its position regarding Taiwan wasn't immediately answered.

Penny Wong, who heads the foreign affairs portfolio for the main Labour opposition, said in a tweet Thursday that either "Scott Morrison has substantially shifted Australia's policy on Taiwan, adopting Beijing's position and ending 50 years of bipartisanship - or he's lying to cover up his mistake." "Given his form, my assumption is it's the latter," she said.

The comments come as Foreign Minister Marise Payne told reporters in Washington after talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Australia was prepared to resume dialogue with China.

Relations between the two sides have been deteriorating for years and have plumbed new lows over the past year as China blocked or tariffed a series of imports from Australia after Canberra sought a probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We stand ready at any time, amongst all of my counterparts and colleagues, to resume dialogue," Payne said. Australia was "open, clear, consistent" about the fact that it's dealing with a number of challenges related to China, she said.

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