‘Just doesn’t cut it’: Stark China warning

Sir Angus Houston has warned Australia’s defence strategy ‘just doesn’t cut it’. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Australia’s defence strategy “just doesn’t cut it” amid a rising China, former defence force chief and one of the co-author’s of the wide-ranging Defence Strategic Review has warned.

Sir Angus Houston, appearing at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday, heavily criticised Beijing’s growing military activity in the South China Sea and said Australia’s navy lacked the lethality to counter the emerging superpower.

He warned there was a risk of “serious incident or, worse, some form of conflict” if China continued to ramp up its fortification in the South China Sea.

“That contravenes the global rules-based order and from an Australian point of view certainly undermines our national interest – the South China Sea is incredibly important to us,” he said.

“There’s always the potential for some form of misunderstanding or miscalculation which could result in some sort of serious incident or, even worse, some form of conflict.”

Sir Angus said Australia’s long-running defence strategy, employed for decades through regional peace, now “just doesn’t cut it”, warning Australia was facing “the worst strategic circumstances in my lifetime”.

Defence Strategic Review
Sir Angus Houston has warned Australia’s defence strategy ‘just doesn’t cut it’ amid a rising China. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

He criticised the lack of transparency around China’s own military build-up and said Australia needed to be pre-emptive and significantly scale up its navy.

He foreshadowed a major shift to smaller and more heavily armed vessels as he criticised the slow uptake in making missiles onshore.

Sir Angus said acquiring guided weapons, especially those with long-range strike capabilities, was the most urgent move required to strengthen the country’s defences.

The DSR included a – criticised – recommendation for a review into the navy’s surface fleet, including the $45bn Hunter-class program, and $4bn for 12 offshore patrol vessels.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said it was “very important that we bring a lot more potency to our Defence Force … and navy is very much in the forefront of our minds in terms of how we respond to the Defence Strategic Review”.

“It is really important that we are doing everything we can to meet this challenge because we do face a very complex time,” he told Channel 9.

Defence Strategic Review
Sir Angus was one of the two authors of the DSR. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Australia needed to be strong to maintain peace.

“And all of us want peace and stability in our region. We want the status quo in Taiwan, and we want the trading relationship with China to continue to go from strength to strength,” he said.

“But we have to be realistic about the militarisation within the region. Under the AUKUS deal there will be four nuclear-powered submarines based in our waters from 2027.

“So that tells you a lot about what the Americans see, what NATO sees. They don’t start moving their significant assets … unless they’re very concerned about what the next few years might hold.”