Dutton praised for talking tough on China

Dutton praised for talking tough on China

A flurry of commentary and materials are being issued by various thinktanks and military specialist organisations in favour and support of Defence Minister Peter Dutton’s new tough stance on China.

Minister Dutton has said a war with China over Taiwan “should not be discounted” as the Federal Government considers the appropriateness of thousands of arrangements that might not be in the national interest, including the Chinese ownership of the Port of Darwin.

Mr Dutton says that Australians needed to be realistic about China’s increasing militarisation across the region. While “nobody wants to see conflict between China and Taiwan or anywhere else”, Mr Dutton said, “I don’t think it should be discounted.”

Commentators have suggested that it would be helpful to look at China through the prism of it being already at war with Taiwan.

“I think China has been very clear about the reunification and that’s been a long-held objective of theirs and if you look at any of the rhetoric that is coming out of China … particularly in recent weeks and months … they have been very clear about that goal,” Mr Dutton said.

Mr Dutton said it was important Australia continue to work with its allies in the region to try to maintain peace.

“For us we want to make sure we continue to be a good neighbour in the region, that we work with our partners and with our allies and nobody wants to see conflict between China and Taiwan or anywhere else,” he said.

China has on many occasions signalled its intentions to use military force against Taiwan.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott last week told a seminar in Auckland that the world needed to face up to the threat China poses to democratic states and freedom.

“What’s very real, though, and daily more insistent, is the Beijing government’s determination to retake Taiwan, by force if necessary, at least by the 2049 centenary of the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover,” Mr Abbot warned.

These moves come in step with the Federal Government’s move to nullify Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ Belt and Road agreements with Beijing. But questions have now been raised about the appropriateness of other China-related deals that might not be in the national interest, such as Chinese control of the Port of Darwin.

Mr Dutton said there were thousands of cases being examined, including the Darwin Port, which entered a 99-year lease under a Chinese owner in 2015.

“There are literally thousands of these cases to look at and the Foreign Affairs Minister is working through all of that,” Mr Dutton said. “The advice from Defence in relation to any of these matters will be taken into consideration.

“If it’s not in our national interest, then obviously [the Government will] act and I think [we are] doing exactly the right thing here.

“Our sovereignty is incredibly important and our values are important and I don’t think anybody would argue with that.”

Last week the Chinese foreign ministry threatened to retaliate for the scuppering of the Belt and Road deals, declaring: “We urge Australia to set aside cold war mentality and ideological bias, view the bilateral co-operation in an objective and rational light.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he wanted Australia to continue having a productive relationship with its largest trading partner, “but at the same time we will be clear and consistent with respect to our national interest”.

On Saturday, Mr Dutton told The Australian that Canberra had been clear with Beijing that it would not “surrender” to threats of retaliation.

“I think the focus for the Australian Defence Force is about core business, providing domestic support, keep Australia safe and secure, focus further emphasis and be clear-eyed about capacity in the defence force to keep us safe and secure in uncertain times and our training now reflects that priority,” he said.

“The level of foreign interference in our country, the level of cyber attacks, the militarisation of bases across our region, the heavy influence into near neighbours — I think that all creates question marks and uncertainty which we need to monitor and respond to as we need.”

Cyber experts have warned that attacks would only increase and become more sophisticated. China is the main culprit behind industrial espionage and could even turn to sabotage. Recent polling suggests that Australians almost unanimously view China’s intentions with suspicion and expressed they are at least slightly concerned with China’s recent posturing.

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