Defence minister's daunting China warning on Anzac Day

Ash Cant and Australian Associated Press
·4-min read

The defence minister has issued an ominous warning on Anzac Day about growing tensions close to home.

Peter Dutton, newly-appointed to the roll of defence minister following March's cabinet reshuffle, spoke about how Australia's attention is switching to its own region amid growing tensions with China.

Appearing on Channel Nine's Today show, he began by recognising the nearly 40,000 troops who fought in the Middle East over the last 20 years.

"It's a remarkable effort, and their efforts I think have saved the country like ours and many others in the western world from terrorist attacks," Dutton said.

Peter Dutton speaks to the Today Show on Anzac Day while quarantining.
Peter Dutton spoke of how Australia's military focus is shifting. Source: Nine/Today Show

Yet attentions quickly turned to China and its growing threat in the region and its impacts on Australia's military operations.

"We need to recognise that our region is changing," Dutton said. 

"China is militarising ports across our region, we need to deal with all of that, and that's exactly what we're now focused on."

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War a possibility, Dutton says

Dutton further elaborated on conflicts within the region involving China and how that impacts Australia and our neighbours on ABC's Insiders on Sunday morning.

When asked by David Speers what he makes of China invading Taiwan's airspace, Dutton said people need to be "realistic" about activity in the South China Sea region.

"There is militarisation of bases across the region. Obviously there is a significant amount of activity and there is an animosity between Taiwan and China," Dutton said. 

And when pressed on remarks by former prime minister Tony Abbott and former defence minister Christopher Pyne that the chances of war over Taiwan was rapidly growing, Mr Dutton agreed it was possible.

"I don't think it should be discounted," he said.

"I think China has been very clear about the reunification and that's been a long-held objective of theirs and if you look at any of the rhetoric that is coming out of China from spokesmen particularly in recent weeks and months in response to different suggestions that have been made.

"They have been very clear about that goal."

Yet he said Australia would work to diffuse such a scenario.

"For us we want to make sure we continue to be a good neighbour in the region, that we work with our partners and with our allies and nobody wants to see conflict between China and Taiwan or anywhere else."

A handout photo made available by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) shows a Chinese coast guard ship sailing along the Whitsun Reef, in the Spratly Islands, Philippines on 14 April 2021 (issued on 15 April 2021).
Chinese vessels have been mooring in Whitsun Reef in the disputed South China Sea since December 2020 with latest reports that Chinese patrol ships remain anchored in the area. Source: EPA/PCG

Australia's strained relationship with China

Dutton spoke of the importance of maintaining good relations within the region, including China, which he said is a "very important trading partner".

Though being "very frank" he said Australia has a "difference of opinion" with the Chinese Communist Party's ideals. 

This week, Foreign Minister Marise Payne tore up Victoria's Belt and Road agreement with China.

The infrastructure deal, which was part of Beijing's vast plan to improve road and maritime trade routes, had been cancelled under the Commonwealth's new veto powers.

China's embassy in Australia responded swiftly, expressing "strong displeasure and resolute opposition".

"This is another unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China," a Chinese embassy spokesperson said in a statement.

"It further shows that the Australian government has no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations."

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne tore up Victoria's Belt and Road Initiative agreements with Beijing. Source: AAP
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne tore up Victoria's Belt and Road Initiative agreements with Beijing. Source: AAP

Though as Speers pointed out to Dutton on Insiders, there are other lucrative deals with Australia have made with China, including the Port of Darwin.

Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles previously said under the Liberal Party, Australia has become. increasingly more dependant on China, citing the Port of Darwin deal.

"The reality is that under this government we've become more trade dependent on China rather than less," Marles said. 

"Under this government, despite all the rhetoric, they're the ones who sold the Port of Darwin to China."

Australia and China have experienced a strained relationship in recent years, which came to a head when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

With AAP

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