War over Taiwan could ‘radically change’ world, Kevin Rudd warns

Australia’s ambassador to the United States has sounded a warning over a potential Taiwan war, which he said would make the world "a radically different place".

The impact of a war over Taiwan would be as great as the Second World War, Kevin Rudd said in a speech in Honolulu on Thursday.

Taiwan has come to be the biggest bone of contention in the Asia-Pacific between China and the United States and its regional allies.

Beijing maintains that the self-governed island is a part of China and has not ruled out the use of force to bring Taipei under its control.

This position, known as the “One China” policy, is recognised or acknowledged by most countries, including the US, meaning they do not consider Taiwan a separate sovereign entity.

China, as a result, is firmly opposed to Taiwan establishing diplomatic relations with foreign powers. It has stepped up military exercises around Taiwan in recent years and recently simulated an invasion of the strategic island.

Chinese president Xi Jinping will likely seek to achieve "final national unification" with Taiwan over the next decade before turning 80, Mr Rudd, who has previously served as Australia's prime minister, said.

"We would be foolish to ignore the increasing clarity of China's military signalling, including the pattern of its most recent military exercises.”

As time begins to run out from China’s perspective, he said, “we will begin to see a change in Chinese strategy toward the 'Taiwan problem’”.

Beijing has adopted a multidimensional “gray zone” strategy in the past 18 months, Mr Rudd said. The strategy is aimed at applying new forms of pressure on Taiwanese and international public opinion to force Taipei to the negotiating table, he explained.

Whether China actually acts will depend on its perception of the strength of the US deterrence, he said.

The US has expressed concern about Chinese military activity near Taiwan, including after last month’s inauguration of president Lai Ching-te.

China has repeatedly warned the US and its allies to not interfere in China's affairs with Taiwan, describing it as "playing with fire".

The US has no formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan as Washington acknowledges Beijing’s as the sole legal government of all of China but is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself and is the island's most important international backer.

Washington is worried that Taiwan’s annexation by China would damage US credibility and have "profound, and potentially irreversible effect, on the perceived reliability of US alliances worldwide", Mr Rudd said.

"The economic costs, domestic political impacts, and unknowable geostrategic consequences that such a war would generate would likely be of an order of magnitude that we have not seen since the Second World War," he said.

"Whatever the outcome, the world is likely to become a radically different place after such a war than it was before."

American defence secretary Lloyd Austin said earlier this month that a war with China was neither imminent nor unavoidable.