'REHEARSALS': Ominous China act puts region on notice

The US's Defence Secretary has suggested China's ramped up military flights near Taiwan pose an ominous warning to the region.

With tensions rising between Beijing and Taiwan as China attempts to reunify the autonomous island-state against its own wishes, there has been an influx of military flexing from the mainland.

Beijing has refused to rule out military force to meet its desired goal, however Taiwan has stressed it will defend itself and has taken encouragement from support from a growing number of countries including Australia.

Last week Taiwan's air force scrambled to ward off dozens of Chinese aircraft including fighter jets and bombers entering its air defence zone.

In a defiant tweet, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned "we will never bow" in the face of China's "coercive action".

FILE - Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin pauses while speaking during a media briefing at the Pentagon on Nov. 17, 2021, in Washington. Oklahoma's Republican governor and the state attorney general are suing in federal court to exempt the state's National Guard from a Biden administration COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Gov. Kevin Stitt argued in a statement Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, that the Biden administration's Defense Department overstepped its constitutional authority by subjecting the National Guard to the mandate it imposed on the active-duty military. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin says the US is keeping a close eye on China's activity. Source: AP

On Saturday (local time), US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said Chinese military flights near Taiwan look like "rehearsals".

Appearing at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, he was asked if he believed the operations were a sign of the future.

"Certainly, it looks like them exploring what their true capabilities [are], and sure, it looks like rehearsal," he responded.

And in a warning to Beijing, he reiterated his nation remains "a Pacific power" and that China "is not 10 feet tall".

"The Indo-Pacific is a region of great opportunity and real challenges. One of those challenges is the emergence of an increasingly assertive and autocratic China."

Morrison government expresses intent in Taiwan situation

Australia's Defence Minister Peter Dutton has defended his recent commentary regarding what he perceives is a growing threat at the hands of China in the Indo-Pacific.

He warned last week at the National Press Club that Australia faces "the most significant change in our strategic environment since the Second World War... as the regional environment deteriorates, and as dark clouds form."

China's foreign ministry has repeatedly warned Mr Dutton his remarks are "irresponsible" and urged him to stop hyping the threat of war and to abandon a Cold War mentality.

Mr Dutton said it was "inconceivable" Australia would not support the US if a war involving Taiwan was to materialise.

And Mr Austin echoed Mr Dutton's remarks, stating: "We are always stronger when we work together with our friends."

Last week Mr Dutton questioned how sincere Beijing was with its repeated claims it was seeking peace in the region.

"We are all familiar with the frequent claims of the Chinese government that it is committed to peace ... yet we bear witness to a significant disconnect between words and actions, between the rhetoric and reality," Mr Dutton said.

Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong has branded Mr Dutton's recent remarks as "wildly out of step" and accused him of chasing votes in the upcoming federal election.

"Amping up the prospect of war against a superpower is the most dangerous election tactic in Australian history," she said.

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