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Australia Urges Restraint as Regional Tensions Rise Over Pelosi Taiwan Visit

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks during the opening of the 47th Federal Parliament at Parliament House in Canberra, July 26, 2022.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has reaffirmed Canberra’s commitment to maintaining the "status quo" with Taiwan as China launches "targeted military operations" in response to a visit by the U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Friday that Australia seeks “cooperation and positive relations with China where we can,” but he added that Canberra would “stand up for Australian values and … national interests.”

His comments follow a turbulent week in the Indo-Pacific. The visit to Taiwan by senior U.S. Democrat Pelosi has infuriated China, which regards the island as its territory that it could take back by force, if necessary.

In response, Beijing has this week launched “targeted military operations” near Taiwan. Australia has urged restraint and has warned that China’s actions could lead to accidental conflict.

Opposition lawmaker Senator James Paterson condemned Beijing’s military drills, insisting that it was a “grossly disproportionate response to fire ballistic missiles into the territorial waters of your neighbors in response to a congressional delegation.”

Regional tensions have coincided with the unveiling Wednesday of Australia’s first strategic review of its military capabilities in a decade.

The government-led review will assess the Australian Defense Force’s “structure, posture and preparedness” over the next 10 years.

Albanese said the country must be able to contend with a changing security outlook.

“The context in which this review takes place is well known,” he said. “We live in an era where there is strategic competition and increased tension in our region and where China has taken a more aggressive posture in the region. But our position on Taiwan is clear. We do not want to see any unilateral change to the status quo and will continue to work with partners to promote peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Australia’s center-left government, elected in May after almost a decade in opposition, is seeking to reboot relations with China, which have deteriorated in recent years.

There have been disagreements over China’s territorial claims in the Indo-Pacific region, democracy in Hong Kong and the alleged mistreatment of its Muslim minority. China’s trade and security ambitions in the South Pacific have also caused alarm in Australia.

There have also been other trade and political disputes. Canberra’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19, which was first detected in China, angered Beijing. It interpreted Australia’s demand as criticism of its handling of the virus, and consequently relations have sunk to all-time lows.

China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, while the United States is Canberra’s most important security ally.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will visit Canberra on Monday for talks with senior government officials.

Sherman will also visit Samoa, Tonga, the Solomon Islands and New Zealand over the next week as Washington turns its diplomatic focus to the region.