Australia announces multi-billion dollar rise in defence spending

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Australia will build a larger and more aggressive military focused on its immediate backyard, including new long-range missiles, signalling a major shift in the nation’s defence strategy.

In this photo taken on October 12, 2016, a Royal Australian Navy diesel and electric-powered Collins Class submarine sits in Sydney Harbour. -

A Royal Australian Navy Collins Class submarine sits in Sydney Harbour. (file pic) Photo: AFP

In a speech that threatens to inflame tensions with China, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia will spend $A270 billion ($NZ288b) over the next 10 years to acquire longer-range strike capabilities across air, sea and land.

Australia in 2016 promised to spend $A195 billion over the next 10 years.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media at Parliament House in Canberra, 13 February 2019.

Scott Morrison Photo: AP

Morrison said Australia will also pivot its military focus to the Indo-Pacific region.

“We want a Indo-Pacific free from coercion and hegemony. We want a region where all countries, large and small, can engage freely with each other and be guided by international rules and norms,” Morrison said in a speech in Canberra.

He warned that Australia needs to prepare for a post-Covid-19 world that is “poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly”.

Although Morrison did not name China, Australia’s muscular posturing towards the Pacific is seen as a signal that Canberra intends to be more assertive in its dealings with Beijing and less reliant on the United States.

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“China is the unspoken elephant in the room,” said Sam Roggeveen, director of the Sydney-based Lowy Institute’s International Security Programme.

“While it’s absolutely right that we focus on our region, buying long-range missiles – particularly ones for land targets – could invite a response from Beijing.”

Morrison said Australia would first buy 200 long-range anti-ship missiles from the US Navy for $A800 million, and would also consider developing hypersonic missiles that can travel at least at five times the speed of sound.

Spending bound to please Trump

The defence spend will please US President Donald Trump, who has accused allies of taking Washington’s protection for granted.

But Australia’s defence spend will do little for relations with China – its largest trading partner. The two nations have butted heads as both compete for influence in the Pacific.

The Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Canberra (L02) (C) and landing craft (R) take part in training excercise in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on March 26, 2019.

The Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Canberra and landing craft take part in a training exercise in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, in March 2019. Photo: AFP

Already dealt a blow by Australia’s 2018 decision to ban China’s Huawei from its nascent 5G broadband network, bilateral ties have in recent months been soured by Canberra’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Last month, Australia said a “sophisticated state-actor” has spent months trying to hack all levels of the government, political bodies, essential service providers and operators of critical infrastructure.

Australia sees China as the chief suspect, three sources told Reuters.

China denies it is behind the spate of cyber-attacks, and the souring of ties has spilled over to trade.

China has suspended beef imports from four of Australia’s largest meat processors and imposed hefty tariffs on barley, although both sides say that is unrelated to the latest spat.

– Reuters / ABC

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