Source: news.com.au by James Hall
Australia will likely be dragged into a war with China in the next five to 10 years amid a looming “global catastrophe”, former defence minister Christopher Pyne has warned.
The long-serving Liberal politician said the Asian superpower’s annexation of Hong Kong’s legal system and treatment of the ethnic Uyghur minority in western China proved President Xi Jinping intended to ramp up dominance in the Indo-Pacific.
Mr Pyne, who served as both defence industry and defence minister under Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, said the likely flashpoint was conflict with Taiwan, which he described as the “most concerning of all” of China’s overt indications of aggression.
In an address to the University of Adelaide on Monday, he said the likelihood of a “kinetic war” with China was more likely than when he served in the pivotal defence cabinet positions.
“Five years ago, I would have said that the possibility was very unlikely – now I would have to say that the possibility is more likely than it was then,” Mr Pyne said.
“Not a cyber war, but a real one involving loss of life, destruction of military platforms, with aggressors and defenders on different sides.
“This isn’t rhetoric. This is something that you and I may well have to confront in the next five to 10 years.”
The former cabinet minister referenced a speech from Xi Jinping to the Chinese Communist Party National Congress recently, where he told delegates he wanted the Chinese military to concentrate on combat readiness.
“He described the security environment as unstable and uncertain, and explained he had asked the Chinese military to co-ordinate the relationship between capacity building and combat readiness, and be prepared to respond to a variety of complex and difficult situations,” Mr Pyne said.
“None of this can be waved away by western analysts as just a speech to appeal to the true believers in the Chinese Communist Party.
“It was a very clear message to the incoming administration of President Joe Biden.”
Mr Pyne also cited remarks from the Commander of the US-Indo Pacific forces, Admiral Philip Davidson, who told a US Congress Committee he believed China could invade Taiwan in the next six years.
“While the United States still accounts for $1 in every $2 spent on military in the world — a staggering statistic — China’s published defence spend will be $US210 billion in 2021.
“China’s military is very capable in an asymmetric war against the US and its allies around the island chains of the western Indo-Pacific and Southeast Asia.
“Australia is one of those allies. For that reason and many others, avoiding any kind of war is our paramount defence and foreign policy priority as a nation.”
Mr Pyne said the leaders of Australia, US, Japan and India met recently to reaffirm the four nations’ commitment to neutral support and a free and peaceful Indo-Pacific, which he stressed was a major priority of the recently elected Biden administration.
“It is in no one’s interest to adopt a policy of containment of China,” he said.
“It is in everyone’s interest to promote a policy of engagement with China.
“The challenges we face right now in managing the emergence of China as one of the two superpowers in the world will shape our world for the next many decades.”
The warning echoed the views shared by the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre last year, which urged Australia, Japan, the US and other regional partners to strengthen their partnerships to resist China’s increasingly brazen assumption of power in the Indo-Pacific.
“While the United States has been largely distracted during COVID-19 with its own domestic concerns, China has taken advantage of an uncertain regional situation to advance its expansive geopolitical interests in key flashpoints across the Indo-Pacific,” the centre’s director of foreign policy and defence Ashley Townshend said.
“China already has already taken advantage of the pandemic to prosecute its regional agenda in ways that are not favourable to our interests.”