The risk of war between China and Taiwan is high unless major allies take action, former prime minister and ANU alumnus Kevin Rudd has warned.

Former prime minister the Hon Dr Kevin Rudd AC has warned that war between China and the United States over Taiwan is possible in the next decade and Australia must brace for conflict, during a major speech hosted by The Australian National University (ANU).

Delivering the 2022 ANU JG Crawford Oration, Dr Rudd said President Xi Jinping had not abandoned China’s aspirations to take the highly-contested and self-governing Taiwan, despite recent breakthrough meetings between the leader of the Chinese Communist Party and US President Joe Biden.

“China still remains on track to enhance its military preparedness, as well as its financial, economic and technological preparedness, to take action against Taiwan from sometime in the late 2020s or in the 2030s – when Xi, of course, still aims to be in power,” Dr Rudd said.

“It would be foolish to conclude, at least from the Chinese perspective, that Xi Jinping has therefore shelved his aspiration to retake Taiwan. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Dr Rudd said the risk of war was “high” unless the US and allies like Australia could deter Beijing from launching an invasion of Taiwan that would generate major conflict “not seen since the Second World War”.  

“The next five years will very much shape and arguably determine the future stability of the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

According to Dr Rudd, Australia would not be able to avoid any potential conflict involving China and the US.

“Whether we like it or not, we are now in the midst of this competitive race,” he said. “We now live, therefore, in dangerous times.”

To avoid conflict, Dr Rudd called on China, the US, Australia and other countries to adopt “rules of the road” and “strategic guardrails” to manage growing military and economic competition in the region — what he described as “managed strategic competition”.

“The problem with unmanaged strategic competition is that it is dangerous. There is a real and living danger that it can result in war by accident,” Dr Rudd said.

“We’ve seen this script many times over in the ugly history of international relations.

“It’s for these reasons I’ve argued for managed strategic competition. The argument is that at this stage neither side, the US or China, is prepared to roll the dice on war by design against one another over the question of Taiwan.

“The challenge right now is to reduce the risk of war by accident for the short to medium term.”

The 2022 JG Crawford Oration forms part of the inaugural ANU China in the World Forum, taking place in Canberra on 21 and 22 November and supported by Mirvac.

Top image: Dr Kevin Rudd AC. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

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