Former defence minister Christopher Pyne has warned of the potential for war with China in the Indo-Pacific region
In an address to the University of Adelaide, the long-serving Liberal politician told graduating students "the strategic posture of the People's Republic of China is not as benign as it was", and is causing discomfort to the United States and its allies.
"The reality is that China is confident and capable and is not embarrassed to show it," he warned students on Monday.
Mr Pyne, who stepped down as defence minister in 2019, said the likelihood of a "Kinetic war" in the Indo-Pacific was now much higher than when he first served as minister for defence industry.
"Five years ago, I would've said that the possibility was very unlikely, now I would have to say that the possibility is more likely than it was then," he said.
"Not a cyber war, but a real one involving loss of life, destruction of military platforms, with aggressors and defenders on different sides.
“This isn’t rhetoric, this is something that you and I may well have to confront in the next 5 to 10 years”
Since leaving politics Mr Pyne has drawn criticism for his work as a lobbyist on behalf of various defence companies in Australia but delivered the graduation oration to the University of Adelaide Law School on Monday, where he outlined China's rapid rise as a military power.
"While the United States still accounts for one in every two dollars spent on the military in the world, a staggering statistic, China's published defence spend will be $US210 billion in 2021," he said.
"China's military is very capable in an asymmetric war against the US and its allies around the island chains of the western Indo-Pacific and South East Asia — Australia is one of those allies."
Avoiding war 'Our paramount defence and foreign policy priority'
Last month, Admiral Philip S Davidson from the United States Indo-Pacific Command said it was imperative the US protect its Pacific territories from a possible Chinese incursion.
Mr Pyne has also pointed to Beijing's recent actions, such as taking control of Hong Kong and staring down criticism of its treatment of ethnic Uyghurs, to highlight the growing threat posed by the Chinese military.
"It feels strong enough to press its claims over the South China Sea and despite assuring the second Obama administration in Washington that it would not militarise reefs and shoals, go ahead and do so anyway," he said.
"Most concerning of all, it has turned up pressure on Taiwan, the most likely next flashpoint in the region."
Earlier this month, a senior American diplomat confirmed Australia and the United States were discussing contingency plans in case a military conflict erupts over Taiwan.
However, Mr Pyne declared "Avoiding any kind of war is our paramount defence and foreign policy priority as a nation".
"That will not be achieved by hiving ourselves off from our allies like the US, Japan and India, in fact, the opposite is true.
"It is in no one's interest to adopt a policy of containment of China; rather, it is in everyone's interest to promote a policy of engagement with China that lifts all the boats across our region."
Story By | Andrew Greene