Richard Marlis uses the speech in Washington to issue a stark Chinese warning about the Asia-Pacific region

Australia has issued a new warning of the risk of conflict in the region over the coming years, in a move endorsed by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was “encouraged” that the Albanian government was committed to expanding Australia’s defense and strategic policy, amid threats of Chinese aggression in the region.

His comments come as Defense Secretary Richard Marles said the world is witnessing a military build-up at a rate not seen since World War II, and issued a stark warning about the danger of conflict in the Asia-Pacific region.

In a keynote address in Washington during his first trip to the US since winning the office, Mr Marles noted Australia’s concern about the use of force and coercion to advance territorial claims “as is happening in the South China Sea”.

Abbott praised Mr. Marles for delivering a sharp warning to Washington.

“One of the things that encourages me about the new government is that it very much continues the line of the previous government when it comes to Australia’s defense and strategic policy. Good for Richard Marles and Anthony Albanese for doing that,” Mr. Abbott told ABC Radio.

I think it would be very dangerous if China set up a series of military bases in the South Pacific. This is clearly China’s intent…and I think it’s important that Australia do everything it can to make sure that the people of the Pacific understand their risks.

“China may come to these countries … Beijing is working for Beijing, not anyone else’s interests.”

Earlier, Mr. Marles used his speech to commit to strengthening the Australian army’s strength to counter aggression in the region and to maintain a “comprehensive regional order”.

While he did not name China specifically, Mr. Marles said the Indo-Pacific region was a challenging strategic environment, referring to Beijing’s signing of a security agreement with the Solomon Islands earlier this year.

He also cited concerns that China would seek to forcibly reintegrate Taiwan, a well-known goal of President Xi Jinping.

Mr. Marles called on the US-Australian alliance to work closely together to preserve global order.

“We cannot afford to hold out… In the coming years, the US-Australian alliance will have to operate not only in a challenging environment in the Indo-Pacific, but also in a more effective military force aimed at avoiding a catastrophic failure of deterrence,” Mr. Marles said.

Events in Europe underscore the risks we face when a state’s military buildup convinced its leader that the potential benefit of a conflict is worth the risk.

“I want to assure… that Australia will do its part. (We) are determined that Australia will take greater responsibility for our security.

“We will make the necessary investment to increase the reach and lethality of Australia’s defense force so that it is able to keep potentially hostile forces and infrastructure at risk from Australia.

While in Washington, Marlis will meet his counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and other prominent US military figures.

Mr. Marles’ speech comes a month after he met his Chinese counterpart, and days after Secretary of State Penny Wong met the Chinese foreign minister for the first time since 2019, in a sign that diplomatic relations may improve.

Senator Wong said she had a “frank” discussion with Yi Wang, but the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a list of four demands it would ask Australia to meet if relations were to truly improve.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia was “not responding to the demands”.

“We are responding to our national interest,” he said.

“I will say this. We will cooperate with China where we can. I want to build good relations with all countries.

“But, we will defend Australia’s interests when we have to.”

Mr. Marles also used his speech to declare climate change a “national security issue.”

“It is a threat from which no one is immune and no country is safe from it, and it is a threat that requires action,” he said.

It comes as Mr. Albanese and Senator Wong head to Fiji for the Pacific Islands Forum, where climate change and China are set to be the top items on the agenda.

The forum is without Kiribati, however, which withdrew at the last minute after accusing other Pacific nations of breaching a “gentleman’s pact” to hand over the secretary-general position to their candidate.

When asked if there is concern that China is being “swept away” and is seeking a security deal with the Pacific nation, Senator Wong said Australia is working with Fiji and the forum as a whole to facilitate reconciliation.

“Wherever things are with Kiribati, we need to keep the door open and continue to work towards reconciliation,” she said.

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