Australia's secretary of the home affairs department has warned Australia must be prepared for potential military conflict, while always striving to reduce the likelihood of war
Mike Pezzullo warned the "drums of war" are beating while delivering an Anzac Day speech during a year where Chinese-Australian relations continue to deteriorate.
"In a world of perpetual tension and dread, the drums of war beat – sometimes faintly and distantly, and at other times more loudly and ever closer," he told department staff on Anzac Day.
"Today, as free nations again hear the beating drums and watch worryingly the militarisation of issues that we had, until recent years, thought unlikely to be catalysts for war, let us continue to search unceasingly for the chance for peace while bracing again, yet again, for the curse of war," he said.
His speech was delivered as Australia's relationship with China grows increasingly fractious, with Defence Minister Peter Dutton expressing concerns about Beijing's stance on Taiwan.
On Sunday Mr Dutton told the ABC the possibility of conflict could "not be discounted" as China pushes ahead with its plans to force a reunification with Taiwan. He also stressed Australian forces would be ready to act if called upon.
China warns Australia over discussion of war
China has repeatedly pushed back against Australia and what it calls interference with its internal affairs, including matters relating to Taiwan.
And on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin warned Mr Dutton over his remarks, claiming he was sending the "wrong signals".
Earlier this month former defence minister Christopher Pyne said a war unfolding in the Indo-Pacific could be just years away.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute Executive Director Peter Jennings previously said 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.
"This is something we won't be able to escape it seems to me."
Australian National University security expert John Blaxland told Channel Nine's Today show Mr Pezzullo's remarks were "chilling" but "sobering" and a reminder that the "stakes are getting high".
Yet Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten, appearing to echo Mr Wang's remarks, said Mr Pezzullo's language was inflammatory.
"By all means, we need to stand up for our trade, stand up for rule rights, but language like 'drums of war', I think that is pretty hyper-excited language," he told Nine.
"I am not sure our senior public servants should be using that language because I am not sure what that actually helps, except cause more anxiety."
Mr Pezzullo is widely tipped to become the next secretary of the Department of Defence.
His Anzac Day message invoked the words of two US generals and reflected on Australia's ANZUS alliance with the United States.
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