Australia's former defence minister Christopher Pyne has warned China could force a war in the Indo-Pacific in just a matter of years.
Speaking at the University of Adelaide as he received an honorary doctorate, Mr Pyne said the chances of war had rapidly increased compared to five years ago.
"I would have to say that the possibility is more likely than it was then. Not a cyber war, but a real one involving loss of life, destruction of military platforms, with aggressors and defenders on different sides," he told graduating students on Monday.
“This isn’t rhetoric, this is something that you and I may well have to confront in the next five to 10 years.”
He warned that China's rapidly growing military would not fear conflict with the US and its allies, including Australia, as it presses forward with its claims over the South China Sea and even Hong Kong.
"The reality is that China is confident and capable and is not embarrassed to show it."
He also flagged concerns about China's unwavering stance on Taiwan, which he believes will be "the next flashpoint in the region".
"Most concerning of all, [Beijing] has turned up pressure on Taiwan."
Last week Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu said Taiwan will "fight a war if we need to fight a war".
"And if we need to defend ourselves to the very last day, then we will defend ourselves to the very last day,” he said.
A Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesperson confirmed last week it had ramped up its navy's “capability to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests" in waters surrounding Taiwan.
Ten Chinese military aircraft were also sent into Taiwan's air defence space, according to CNN, in what was yet another attempt by the Chinese military to flex its muscles in the region.
My Pyne said it was vital Australia remained close to its allies in the region, namely fellow Quad members the US, Japan and India.
Australia 'won't be able to escape' Taiwan conflict
And while he said it was Australia's priority to avoid war as a "paramount defence", the US has been ramping up its own involvement in the region, and was accused over the weekend of antagonising China.
The US released a photo online showing senior Naval brass casually eyeing off a Chinese vessel in the South China Sea.
"This staged photograph is definitely ‘cognitive warfare’ to show the US doesn’t regard the PLA (People's Liberation Army) as an immediate threat," Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwan’s Naval Academy, told the South China Morning Post.
The US has vowed to counter China's military buildup in the region, with both Australia and the US voicing their concerns over China's position on Taiwan.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute Executive Director Peter Jennings fears Australia will have nowhere to hide if China opts to take Taiwan with force.
"You better believe the United States will be expecting the help of its two key allies in the region – Japan and Australia – to play a role in the defence of Taiwan," he told Sky News last week.
"This is something we won't be able to escape it seems to me."
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