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Australia Seeks a More 'Potent' Defense Force as Taiwan Tensions Escalate


FILE - A Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon aircraft making a low pass over Royal Australian Navy destroyer HMAS Hobart during Fleet Certification Period, Feb. 24, 2022

Australia says its defense force must be "as potent as possible" as China intensifies its military drills near Taiwan.

Speaking on Tuesday, Australian Defense Minister and acting Prime Minister, Richard Marles, said Beijing’s military buildup was of "enormous" concern and has shaped the strategic circumstances of the region.

Tensions have escalated since U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit last week to Taiwan, an island China claims as its own.

In response, Beijing has launched drills in the Taiwan Strait, deploying jets and warships, and firing several ballistic missiles.

Marles said that China’s military activities were of "significant" concern.

At the weekend, Australia joined the United States and Japan to condemn the escalation in tensions. But Beijing insisted it was the "victim" of diplomatic bullying.

Last week, Australia announced a review of its military capabilities for the next decade.

Marles told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that China’s growing assertiveness has become an immense security and political challenge for the Canberra government and its allies.

"It is the single biggest fact(or) which shapes the strategic environment of our region, arguably the world," he said. "It is certainly one of the key fact(ors) in shaping Australia’s strategic circumstances and it is why we need to make sure that we are building a defense force which is as capable as possible, which is as potent as possible so that we can keep Australians safe."

Australia has a One China policy that does not support Taiwanese independence. Officials have said that Canberra does not back “any unilateral action on either side of the Taiwan Strait, which would change the status quo.”

Tensions over Taiwan join a long list of disputes and grievances that have unsettled Australia’s relationship with its biggest trading partner.

There have been allegations of Chinese interference in Australian affairs, concerns about democracy in Hong Kong, and Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea and the Pacific. The two sides also have clashed over Canberra’s call for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19, which was first detected in China.

Analysts have said China has sought to punish Canberra with a range of restrictions on Australian commodities.

Beijing has accused Australia of "anti-China" hysteria.

The recently elected Labor government in Canberra has said it was on a mission to repair its fractured ties with China, but experts have said that tensions over Taiwan have shown it will be a delicate process.

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