Australia says it will significantly increase military spending and focus on the Indo-Pacific region amid rising tensions between the U.S. and China.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged $ 270 billion (£ 150 billion; $ 186 billion) to Australia’s arms budget in 10 years – a 40% increase.
He said Australia would acquire long-range missiles and other capabilities to “halt” future conflicts.
It was necessary because the region was the “focus of the dominant global competition of our time,” he added.
Morrison cited several areas of tension, including the border between India and China, and conflicts over the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
Then there is the deterioration of relations between Australia and China – which are widely seen as the worst in decades.
What is Australia spending money on?
The new defense capacity budget – about 2% of GDP – replaces a previous decade-long strategy, defined only in 2016, which had set aside $ 195 billion.
Morrison said that a lot of spending will go towards upgrading weapons and equipment.
Australia will buy up to 200 long-range anti-ship missiles from the U.S. Navy, which can cover 370 km (229 miles). It will also invest in the development of a hypersonic weapon system – missiles that can travel thousands of kilometers.
Up to $ 15 billion would be spent on cyber warfare tools – which the prime minister noted “says a lot about the source of the threats”.
Last month, he warned that Australian institutions and companies were being targeted by cyber attacks by a “sophisticated state actor”. The observations were widely interpreted as focusing on China.
Why does Morrison say this is necessary?
He said tensions between the US and China have accelerated in recent years and that their relations are now “fragmented at best”.
The pandemic has worsened these tensions and put the global security order at its most unstable point in decades. The region is also seeing “military modernization” at an unprecedented rate, he said.
“The largely benign security environment … that Australia enjoyed, basically from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the global financial crisis, has disappeared,” he said.
“The risk of miscalculation – and even conflict – is increasing.”
He said Australia would vigorously defend its democratic values and those of others in the region, adding that increasing military capabilities would help “prevent war”.
According to the 2016 strategy, military priorities were divided equally across the region, but also in operations with Western allies, such as U.S.-led missions in the Middle East.
What has been the reaction?
The Labor opposition welcomed the change in strategy, saying it has long called for greater military focus in the region.
Analysts say the change shows that Australia is trying to be strong in its own region and its own resources.
“There is a strong emphasis, implicitly, in Morrison’s speech, on recognizing the rise of China and also that the United States may not be as much help as in previous years,” said Sam Roggeveen of the Lowy Institute.
Many also interpreted the change as Australia having a more definite opposition to China’s growing influence in the region.
Relations with its largest trading partner have deteriorated further in recent months, after pressure from Australia for a global investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 virus.