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'Very cagey': Growing concern over China's 'true intent'

The dramatic shift in China's attitude towards Australia in the past year could be just the beginning of an extended period of escalating tension between the two nations, an international relations expert has claimed.

If China's economic punishment is anything to go by, Australia could soon be penalised even harsher as China continues to carve itself out as a global leader, Curtin University Associate Professor Alexey Muraviev said.

"The change of China's rhetoric towards Australia that happened over the past 12 months has been quite noticeable," Dr Muraviev told Yahoo News Australia.

He argued China demanding changes in behaviour from Australia by banning certain produce items from export, encouraging students not to study in Australia and tourists not to spend money in Australia, could pave the way for more forceful action.

Chinese President Xi Jinping.
There is cause for great concern over China's shift towards being the dominant global leader (Chinese President Xi Jinping). Source: Getty

"Effectively, it is punishing us economically. There is no guarantee that if the situation continues to escalate, the next step won't be a move away from economic pressure towards political military pressure," Dr Muraviev said.

"China can do this, given its weight, power and its capacity to project its power, including military power, and Australia's capacity to defend itself."

China wants to have its own version of international order, but its lack of transparency about how it plans to execute such an ambitious plan is cause for significant concern, Dr Muraviev said.

"They're very cagey about their strategic intent," he said, alluding to China's public messages about calm and peace, and how they could be seen to be contradicting the increasing sense of importance placed on its military capabilities.

"It does make people wonder about what their true intent is," Dr Muraviev said.

"China obviously exercises different values, and when there is a lack of transparency and lack of understanding, it causes massive ambiguity and raises concern," he said.

Global conflict likely to unfold in the next decade

A global conflict provoked by China was a likely possibility, Dr Muraviev added, with major forces predicted to face off within the next decade.

A military confrontation involving China was most likely to occur in North East Asia, he said.

"We are going through tectonic shifts with the global balance of power. There has been a relative decline of power of the United States .... President Joe Biden is more preoccupied with domestic matters.

"Biden inherited a divided nation from Trump. Even though the US will continue to have active involvement in global affairs, over the next few years Biden's priority will be to restore a sense of unity domestically."

Military training exercise in China.
China's strengthening military and escalating pressure on other global forces has experts predicting a war within the next decade. Source: Getty

A slight decline in global involvement could allow China an opportunity to "achieve goals without having to worry too much about the US", Dr Muraviev said.

The only thing that would stop China's complete domination would be the US "pulling itself together" and once again presenting as a united front on the international stage.

"The opportunity of the Chinese to consolidate their gains would be between now and effectively over the next eight to 10 years," Dr Muraviev said.

Australia won't be directly targeted by China's military

Any involvement of Australia in a military conflict would not be with China directly, but in support of allies including the US, northeast Asia, Korea, Japan or Taiwan.

Dr Muraviev said the deployment of Australian military assets would also be relatively minor, with about 1000 troops expected to be deployed at any one time, from a rotation of about 9000.

A limited number of aircraft, naval assets, amphibious forces and special forces could be deployed, but the conflict, if it is to occur, will geographically be a long way from Australia.

"We are unlikely to see a commitment of substantial assets because we have a fairly small military force, and our defence priority is to protect our immediate neighbourhood," Dr Muraviev said.

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