Foreign Minister Penny Wong has flagged Australia faces “a greater risk now of conflict than we have for many years” after China launched a series of high-scale military drills in the Indo-Pacific.
Speaking ahead of a UN summit in New York on Tuesday, Senator Wong alluded to China’s growing influence over the hotly-contested region and said it was vital to work with a range of countries to make sure “no one country dominates.”
“These are the riskiest strategic circumstances the world has seen for many years,” the minister told CNN.
“I think powers like Australia, we’re a middle power - all of the sovereign nations that are represented at the UN have a role, which is to urge and to encourage the great powers to manage their competition wisely.”
Warnings of rising tensions come after China initiated a fleet of military drills in the Taiwan Strait earlier this week in a major showcase of power against allied forces.
Taiwan’s defence ministry issued a plea on Monday urging Beijing to stop “destructive, unilateral action” after more than 100 Chinese warplanes and nine navy ships were spotted near the island.
This came days after over 50 Chinese-owned warplanes were detected near Taiwanese airspaces.
China declared the show of force was in response to joint US, Australian and Japanese navy drills held over recent weeks and flagged that its troops remained on “high alert.”
US President Joe Biden said he was not seeking active conflict with China but said the US will “push back on aggression and intimidation”.
“When it comes to China, I want to be clear and consistent - we seek to responsibly manage the competition between our countries so it does not tip into conflict,” Mr Biden told a UN Summit on Tuesday.
Senator Wong said she backed Mr Biden’s stance of “responsibly managing” the situation in the Indo-Pacific and urged UN countries to redouble down on their efforts to maintain stability.
“I think great powers do what great powers do,” she said.
“What we don’t want, and want none of the world wants, is competition escalating into conflict.”
Senator Wong also said she held “deep concerns” over allegations India was behind the murder of a Sikh man on Canadian soil.
The minister refused to confirm whether the government had recently spoken with Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau since he accused the Indian government of foul play earlier this week.
“I wouldn’t go into details of diplomatic engagements [..] but we have expressed our view about these issues to our Indian friends,” she said.
When asked about Australia’s questionable climate history, including the government’s recent approval of coal mines, the Senator said it was a “big task” and conceded the country was “a fossil fuel reliant nation.”
“We recognise our history and the nature of our economy and we are genuinely motivated to change that,” she said.