Defence Minister Peter Dutton has issued a stern warning for Australians this Anzac Day, saying it’s time the Defence Force turned its attention to nearer shores amid a growing threat from China.
Speaking to Weekend Today this morning, Mr Dutton paid tribute to the “amazing effort” of the tens of thousands of Australians and other Allied service personnel who had fought in the Middle East over the past two decades, saying they had saved Australia and other nations from terror attacks.
However, with the remaining 80 ADF personnel set to return from service in Afghanistan by September, Mr Dutton said that Australia must now focus on closer threats to its national security.
“We need to recognise that our region is changing,” he said.
“China is militarising ports across our region. We need to deal with all of that, and that is exactly what we are now focused on.”
The comments follow the contentious decision by Foreign Minister Marise Payne to scrap Victoria’s controversial infrastructure agreement with Beijing linked to China’s Belt and Road initiative.
The move prompted immediate backlash from the foreign superpower, with Chinese officials slamming it as an “unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China”.
“It further shows that the Australian government has no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations.”
Tensions are also mounting in the South China Sea, where the Philippine government is demanding China remove a reef claimed by Manila.
The escalating feud between Manila and Beijing started after more than 200 Chinese vessels suspected by Philippine authorities to be operated by militias were spotted early last month at Whitsun Reef.
The United States has said it would stand by the Philippines amid the standoff.
Over the past year, China has slapped trade sanctions on a range of Australian exports, with billions of dollars wiped, after Australia called for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and the Federal Government introduced foreign interference legislation.
The recently-installed defence minister’s comments today will be taken as further indication of rising tensions, as the federal government refuses to back down.
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