Marles looks to South Korean defence ties

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Defence Minister Richard Marles has hosted his South Korean counterpart as the new government seeks to deepen its ties in Asia and review Australia's defence strategy.

Minister for National Defence Lee Jong-sup joined Mr Marles in Canberra on Thursday to discuss the Indo-Pacific in the context of an increasingly aggressive China.

The meeting comes as China ramps up military exercises in Taiwan's territorial waters and airspace in response to a visit by US speaker Nancy Pelosi.

South Korea will for the first time participate in the Pitch Black multilateral air combat exercise in northern Australia next month following the signing of a comprehensive strategic partnership in December.

"The relationship with Korea is one of the most important relationships that we have within our region. We are very strong friends," Mr Marles said alongside his counterpart before their meeting at Parliament House.

"We are keen to renew that acquaintance but also increase the level of engagement between our two countries.

"There's obviously a long history, but we're seeing an increased level of exercises."

On Friday, Mr Lee will travel to Geelong, where South Korean defence company Hanwha is setting up operations to build self-propelled howitzers.

The meeting follows the government's announcement of a review into the defence force to identify capability gaps, noting that there was a potential for conflict in the next decade.

One of the people heading the review, retired air chief marshal Angus Houston, said the current strategic situation was the worst he had seen in his lifetime.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham defended the previous coalition government's record, saying it was not Australia that had contributed to increased tensions in the Indo-Pacific.

The review will be the first of its kind since 2012 and will be done alongside the consultation process to decide which nuclear submarines Australia will acquire under the AUKUS pact.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton likened the review to "putting a gorilla on the back of Phar Lap" as he criticised Labor's former defence minister, who will lead the review with Mr Houston.

"Stephen Smith, who's a nice bloke, was probably the worst defence minister since federation," he told 2GB.

"He slashed money from defence like there was no tomorrow ... it's a real concern."

Mr Marles told reporters Labor would not cut back on defence spending under the current government.

Senator Birmingham also pledged to increase his engagement in the Pacific region after criticism the coalition did not do enough in the lead up to the Solomon Islands signing a security pact with China.

Asked about regrets from government, the senator told AAP he preferred to "look forward rather than backwards".

"I welcome the fact the new government is using the increased medium-term climate change targets as a point for even closer co-operation and dialogue with Pacific island nations," he said.

"That's an important pillar as part of ongoing discussions there and I'll be looking to make sure that where possible we build on that in our own policy settings."

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