The Defence Minister has issued a warning about the situation with China, saying a conflict in the region would be ‘catastrophic’.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton says Australia is facing the most significant change in strategic environment since WWII, warning every major city is within range of China’s missiles.
During his first address to the National Press Club in Canberra in his current role, Mr Dutton said he did not believe China wished to occupy other countries but saw Australia as subordinate, or a “tributary state”.
He also warned about the consequences of Beijing taking back Taiwan and said any conflict with China in the Indo Pacific would be “catastrophic”.
“If Taiwan is taken, surely the Shenkakus are next,” Mr Dutton said, referring to a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
He said in the abscence of “counterpressure”, the Chinese government would become the sole security and economic partner for Indo Pacific nations.
“Now, that is a not just a perilous military and economic situation for our country, but for so many more,” he said.
Mr Dutton said that was why the enduring presence of the United States and other partners was “absolutely essential”.
Mr Dutton said China’s naval battle force had more than tripled in size over the past two decades alone to become the biggest navy in the world, with 355 ships and submarines.
He said every major city in Australia, including Hobart, was in range of China’s missiles which were projected to reach between 700 and 1000 nuclear warheads in the next decade.
“Today, we face the most significant change in our strategic environment since the Second World War,” he said.
“Once again, Australia finds herself in a region at the centre epicentre of global strategic competition, a region witness to a military build-up of a scale and ambition that historically has rarely been associated with peaceful outcomes.
“Along with peoples of the Indo-Pacific and the world, Australians have watched, and we’ve watched very closely as the Chinese government has engaged in increasingly alarming activities.”
Mr Dutton said he had spoken many times with Prime Minister Scott Morrison about how “we live in the echoes of the 1930s”.
“There are many men and women who, as parents, sent their children off to conflict in the near region and across Europe and many other parts of the world and those soldiers and those veterans suffered and paid a great price and I never want to see that repeated,” he said.
“The world would be foolish to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s.
“We live in times of high tension but the region is not on an inevitable path to conflict.
“But only if all countries of goodwill ensure together we do our utmost to steer clear of the cliff face.”
He said conflict needed to be avoided, however “acquiescence or appeasement is a tactic that is a cul-de-sac of strategic misfortune or worse.”
“Were conflict to come about through misunderstanding, through miscalculation or through hostility, it would be calamitous for us all,” he said.
“Australia’s position is very clear. Conflict must be avoided.
“I believe we should call out actions that are destabilising and contrary to the interests of Australia in our region.
“We do this because the Australian people expect it of their government but we also do it because we must amplify voices silenced by coercion, yet which seek the same peace and stability as us.”