Australia to order military build-up in response to China’s growing power

Photo: Defence Australia

The Australian military will be rapidly transformed to prepare for a possible conflict between China and the United States.

An unclassified version of a major defense review published Monday recommends that Australia buy longer range missiles to counter China’s growing threat to “the global rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific”. The report outlines the biggest shake-up to Australia’s military in decades.

The defence review doesn’t identify China as a direct threat to Australia, but it does warn that Beijing’s rapid military build-up and its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea threaten Australia’s security.

The reports states that “the prospect of major conflict in the region… directly threatens our national interest.”

The review also details concerns that the Australian Defence Force is not equipped for modern warfare’s “missile age” and that Australia is no longer protected by its geographic isolation.

The report is the product by Australia’s former defense minister Stephen Smith and former defence chief Sir Angus Houston. It calls for upgrades to military bases in northern Australia and more investment in long-range missiles.

It also urged the government to end a long-standing assumption that Australia would have a decade’s warning to prepare for a direct conflict.

Speaking to reporters Monday in Canberra, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the nation’s military needed to ready for modern challenges.

“We confront the most challenging strategic circumstances since the Second World War both in our region and indeed around the world,” Albanese said. “That is why we are investing in our capabilities, and we are investing in our relationships to build a more secure Australia and a more stable and prosperous region.”

Australia’s armed forces review has also warned that climate change risked “overwhelming” defence capabilities as Australia and other countries increasingly grew reliant on the military for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.

The government in Canberra said it plans to spend US$12.6 billion on the defence report’s recommendations.

There has been no comment so far from Beijing. Its relations with Australia have deteriorated in recent years over various diplomatic and trade disputes, but the election almost a year ago of a left-leaning government in Canberra has seen bilateral tensions ease, especially after prime minister Albanese’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of an international summit in Indonesia last November. Albanese has previously stressed that while better relations with China — Australia’s biggest trading partner — were important, the two countries would inevitably disagree on various matters.