CANBERRA • The United States is undertaking "strategic planning" with its Australian ally to consider potential joint responses to a conflict over Taiwan, according to President Joe Biden's top diplomat in Canberra.
"We're committed as allies to working together - not only in making our militaries interoperable and functioning well together, but also in strategic planning," said Mr Michael Goldman, the US Embassy's charge d'affaires, in an Australian National University podcast released yesterday, when asked about a potential role for Australia in a Taiwan contingency.
"And when you look at strategic planning, it covers the range of contingencies that you've mentioned, of which Taiwan is obviously an important component," Mr Goldman added.
While Australia regularly hails its history of being involved in every major American conflict over the past century, it has yet to officially commit to taking part in a potential conflict over Taiwan.
The US also makes no iron-clad guarantees it will come to Taiwan's defence if China makes good on threats to invade, only agreeing to help the separately ruled economy maintain its capacity for self defence.
China has stepped up military exercises around Taiwan over the past few years as the US bolsters diplomatic ties with the set of islands, which Beijing claims as its breakaway province.
The government in Taipei views Taiwan as an already de facto sovereign nation.
The comments risk inflaming US-China relations as Beijing hits back hard over criticism from Western countries over everything from allegations of forced labour in Xinjiang to cracking down on democracy advocates in Hong Kong to increased intimidation of Taiwan.
President Xi Jinping's government views all of them as "internal matters", and has begun to lash out at companies that take a position on them.
China has also hit Australia with trade reprisals since Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government called for independent investigators to be allowed into Wuhan to probe the origins of the pandemic a year ago.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this week that Beijing "apparently helped to write" a World Health Organisation report studying the origins of the coronavirus.
Mr Goldman, who is heading the embassy until the US replaces Mr Arthur Culvahouse as ambassador after he left in January, also backed up recent comments by Mr Kurt Campbell, the US National Security Council's Asia coordinator.
Mr Campbell said in a newspaper interview last month that US relations with China will not improve until Beijing stops its economic coercion against Australia.
Other nations including Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam have also been targeted with economic action by Beijing, he added.
Said Mr Goldman: "We really can't expect to have substantial improvements in our relationship with China while it's holding hostage the economies of our partner nations."