FILE - Australian Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton inspects St. Sebastian's Church where two Australian citizens died in the Easter Sunday bombing, during his visit in Negombo, Sri Lanka, June 3, 2019.
Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton says he couldn't rule out a military confrontation over Taiwan.

SYDNEY - China cautioned Australia to abide by its 'One China' policy after a senior Australian on Sunday warned of a potential conflict over Taiwanese independence. 

Speaking on an Australian news talk show, Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said he couldn't rule out a military confrontation over Taiwan.

"I do not think it should be discounted. I think China has been very clear about the reunification and that has been a long-held objective of theirs and if you look at any of the rhetoric coming out of China from spokesmen particularly in recent weeks and months in response to different suggestions that have been made, they have been very clear about that goal."

Currently, relations between Australia and China, its most valuable trading partner, are at their worst in decades. There have been trade and political tensions as well as disagreements over human rights. Canberra's call last year for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, which was first detected in China in 2019, offended Beijing. It interpreted Australia's demand as criticism of its handling of the pandemic. Bilateral ties have deteriorated ever since. 

There is now friction over Taiwan, which is seen by Beijing as a breakaway province that will eventually be reunified with the Chinese mainland under what it calls the 'One China' policy.  

Australia does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state or regard the authorities in Taiwan as a national government. However, the United States has raised concerns about Chinese aggression towards Taiwan. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken asserted that Washington has a "serious commitment to Taiwan being able to defend itself."  

In response to Dutton's comments, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, "Abiding by the 'One China' principle is a prerequisite for China-Australia relations. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory, and the Taiwan issue is purely China's internal affairs that involves China's core interests and allows no foreign interference." 

Last week, Australia abandoned deals made with the state of Victoria linked to China's Belt and Road initiative. Observers say the billions-worth of infrastructure investment projected by the Chinese government aims to expand its global economy and influence, but the project has left some countries with significant debt.

Officials in Canberra said they were protecting Australia's national interest, but the Chinese embassy in Australia called the move "provocative." 

Analysts believe that Canberra is being punished for trying to stand up to China, which has imposed restrictions and tariffs on a range of Australian farming goods, as well as coal.