The shadow defence minister, Andrew Hastie, has called for Australia to develop and operate its own missiles, warning the era of the “lucky country” is over.
On Sunday, Hastie argued Australia needs greater deterrents given the “very bleak” strategic outlook, with a “rising China” displaying “revisionist and expansionist ambitions”.
The comments come after the foreign minister, Penny Wong, expressed deep concern about China’s launch of ballistic missiles into waters around Taiwan’s coastline, and the climate change minister, Chris Bowen, said Australia would not shy away from calling China out.
Relations between the two nations remain strained after Australia’s government criticised China’s response to a US diplomatic visit to Taiwan as destabilising and over the top.
The Chinese embassy has warned Australia against involvement, saying “finger-pointing” against Beijing was unacceptable.
China launched ballistic missiles during live-fire exercises near Taiwan following US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island earlier in the week.
Hastie, who was the assistant defence minister before the Coalition lost office in May, told the ABC’s Insiders the missile launch demonstrated China was using its “strategic bulk to force a sphere of influence”.
He said Australia needed more fuel stocks, more ammunition, investment in cyber capability, nuclear submarines through the Aukus alliance, to “hold adversaries … at distance”, and missiles that can “reach out and touch an adversary”.
“I think we need to partner more closely with the US, with the UK … on missiles – they’re a critical partner,” he said.
Hastie clarified he was not referring to allowing the US to base long-range missiles in Australia, but rather that “we need to partner to develop our own sovereign missiles … Australian-owned, Australian-delivered, if required”.
Hastie said Australia will cover the capability gap before it acquires nuclear submarines with an extension of the Collins-class submarines, which are still “regionally superior”.
“Richard Marles as defence minister needs to be focused on delivering those [nuclear] submarines as quickly as possible.”
He rejected the possible purchase or development of an interim submarine, arguing the navy wasn’t big enough to support three different submarines simultaneously.
Hastie said Australia needs to “continue to engage with China and Taiwan … because the last thing we want is miscalculation”.
On Sunday, Bowen said China’s reaction to Pelosi’s visit was “over the top”.
“Obviously it is a time for clear and calm heads,” the climate change minister told the Nine Network.
“We’re going to act in Australia’s national interests and in accordance with our values … We will say what we believe should happen in the region and we will make statements even if other nations don’t agree with those.”
A joint statement from Australia, the United States and Japan on Friday condemned the Chinese government’s actions and urged them to immediately cease military exercises.
The Chinese embassy in Australia responded with a statement on Saturday expressing concern and “discontent”.
“The actions taken by Chinese government to safeguard state sovereignty and territorial integrity and curb the separatist activities are legitimate and justified,” the statement said.
“Instead of expressing sympathy and support to the victim, the Australian side has condemned the victim along with the perpetrators.”
On Friday, Wong urged “restraint and de-escalation” after China’s missile launches.
“It is in all our interests to have a region at peace and not in conflict,” she said. “Australia does not want to see any unilateral change to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. There is no change to Australia’s bipartisan one-China policy.”
Hastie on Sunday said as a “general principle” Australia must be prepared to defend its neighbours because if it doesn’t stand up for other countries, “who will stand up for [us]?”
“As a nation of only 26 million people on a vast continent, we need as many friends [as] we can get. In fact, I would say the era of the lucky country is over.”
He said Australia should model itself on Singapore and Israel to “prepare for the challenges ahead, given our size and strength relative to countries like China and Russia”.
If conflict over Taiwan were to eventuate, “whether we are involved directly or indirectly on the periphery, we would certainly be in the gun, and that’s why we need to build our deterrence strength”, he said.
Hastie said he would “like to visit Taiwan at some point”, noting he had been invited already.
Source: The Guardian