Australia’s defense minister has stepped up his warnings ahead of the Chinese threat, declaring that Beijing wants countries to be “tributary states” and is building its military to an extent that is unlikely to be peaceful.
Peter Dutton said on Friday that “dark clouds” were forming in the region and that countries “would be foolish to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s”.
He said the cost of Australia coming to Taiwan’s aid in a military conflict could be lower than the consequences of passivity, while accusing his critics of engaging in “simplistic” or “wishful thinking” about China’s change of attitude.
The Chinese embassy slammed Dutton, saying he “found conflict and division”, suggesting further damage to the already strained relationship between Australia and its main trading partner.
Dutton, a significant conservative figure in Scott Morrison’s government, said Chinese President Xi Jinping did not bluff about Beijing’s willingness to take Taiwan by the 2040s.
Dutton claimed that China would not stop there. “If Taiwan is taken, the Senkaku are definitely next,” he said, referring to uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which is administered by Japan but which China claims where they are known as Diaoyu Dao.
The minister predicted that China would also impose a more coercive relationship with other countries in the region, resulting in “a dangerous military and economic situation for our country and many others”.
Just days after he was accused by the opposition of dangerously increasing the prospect of war for domestic political purposes, Dutton injected an election message into his speech.
He said it was a “time of great uncertainty” and Australians “can be sure the government – the Morrison government – will act to keep them safe”.
“Over the next decade, China’s stockpile of nuclear warheads – estimated to be in the 200s last year – is expected to reach between 700 and 1,000 warheads,” Dutton told the National Press Club on Friday.
“Every major city in Australia, including Hobart, is within range of China’s missiles.”
Dutton said the Indo-Pacific was “witnessing a military build-up of a scale and ambition that has historically rarely been associated with peaceful results”.
Dutton said despite high tensions that the region was not on an inevitable path to conflict, “but only if all countries in good faith ensure that together we do our utmost to steer clear of the rock wall”.
“Does the Chinese government want to occupy other countries? Not in my opinion,” Dutton said.
“But they see us as tributary states – and the relinquishment of sovereignty and the abandonment of any affiliation with the international rule of law is what our country has been fighting against since the federation.
“It has cost huge human costs, and any repetition of the mistakes of the 1930s would again require huge costs for our country and many more.”
Dutton’s speech reflects growing concerns among the Australian government about China’s military build – up and its activities in the South and East China Seas and the sharpening of military pressure on Taiwan.
But his intervention also reinforces the Morrison administration’s efforts to portray Labor as weak in terms of national security and China ahead of the election – although there is generally a two-way consensus on the strategic challenges in the region.
Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman Penny Wong said Dutton’s speech was a case of “desperate political tactics”. She said Dutton, a one-time candidate for prime minister who fell short in the Liberal Party’s 2018 vote, was auditioning for Morrison’s job.
Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating went on the offensive, describing Dutton as “a dangerous personality” who had set up a “cooling aggressive and unrealistic scenario regarding Australia’s foreign and defense position in the region”.
Keating – who weeks earlier had called on Australia to stay out of any war over Taiwan’s status and who is critical of the divisive consensus on foreign policy – said the stance was “inappropriate for Australia’s vulnerable geographical conditions”.
“Peter Dutton, through his careless utterances, continues to inject Australia into a potentially explosive situation in North Asia – a situation that Australia is in no position to control, let alone succeed and thrive in,” Keating said in a declaration.
Dutton had previously accused Keating of being a supporter of reconciliation with China and of being out of touch with current strategic realities.
“Well, I mean, if you look at Paul Keating, Neville Keating or Paul Chamberlain – choose for yourself, they’re all pretty apt designations for Paul Keating,” Dutton said.
“For the life of me, I can not refer to any of what Paul Keating says to fact in the year 2021. There is great joy in thinking that the United States may be in decline in Keating’s mind.”
The Australian government and the Labor Party have both recently raised concerns about increased Chinese military pressure on Taiwan, a democratically controlled island of 24 million people, amid Beijing’s long-term goal of “uniting” with what it sees as its territory. .
Dutton told the Australian newspaper earlier this month: “It would be unthinkable that we would not support the US in an action if the US chose to take that action.”
Dutton said he would not deploy military personnel lightly, adding that he “felt that weight heavily” when he sent personnel to Kabul in August to help with evacuation, after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.
“I quoted the 1930s before, and there are many men and women who, as parents, sent their children into conflict in the near region and throughout Europe and many other parts of the world, and the soldiers and the veterans suffered and paid a great price and I never want to see it repeated, “Dutton said.
He said that if Australia was “a weak and unreliable and untrustworthy friend” for its best security allies, then it could not count on US support in the future – a result “that would be catastrophic for not only this generation but for generations of mothers and fathers and members of the ADF ”.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy said it was “unthinkable” that relations between China and Australia would “take a good momentum” or that Australia’s overriding interests would be served, “if the Australian government bases its national strategy on such visionless analysis and outdated mentality ”.
Beijing rolled out a series of trade actions against Australian export sectors last year, including wine, barley, beef and seafood, and has refused to allow ministerial calls amid a bad “atmosphere” for negotiations.
The Australian government has said it will not bow to “economic coercion”, and it reached a new security deal with the US and UK – called Aukus – to acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines from around 2040.
Labor defense spokesman Brendan O’Connor called on Morrison to “rein in” Dutton, saying it was “really irresponsible” for the defense minister to misrepresent the views of the Australian opposition.
“I think he has every right to say that we must be prepared for the worst and, of course, look for the best possible outcome in our region – but I do not think it has been useful to use war rhetoric for politics. purpose, has been useful, has in any way been wise, ”O’Connor told Sky News.
“We will not return to the list of demands from China, and we support the government when it comes to defending our values and our interests in this region,” O’Connor said.