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China 'sabre-rattling' of concern but threat of war unfounded, expert says



A report claiming Australia faced a potential war with China within three years has been branded as "scaremongering" by an expert on international relations.

James Curran, a professor of modern history at Sydney University and a former federal government adviser, spoke with after The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers published a special report under the headline "Red Alert: War risk exposed".

READ MORE: Chinese minister warns China, US on course for conflict

The report was based on the findings of five national security experts, who in a joint statement said they believed Australia "faces the prospect of armed conflict in the Indo-Pacific within three years", and the nation was unprepared for such a war.

It also pointed to a move by China against the self-governing territory of Taiwan as a potential trigger for conflict involving China, the US and its allies such as Australia.

Beijing regards Taiwan as part of the mainland and China's President Xi Jinping has said he would never rule out the use of force to achieve "reunification".

But Curran said there was no evidence from authoritative sources supporting the claim of a potential war by 2026, or that the federal government was blind to the potential threat from China.

The "Red Alert" findings were based on "the crudest type of realism that ironically could potentially bring on the war no one wants to see", Curran said.

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But he stressed Australia must recognise rising Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific as a potential threat and did not back any form of "appeasement" to Beijing.

"The sabre-rattling by Xi in Beijing is of concern," Curran said.

"And any war between China and the US would have disastrous consequences for East Asia."

His comments come as the federal government prepares its response to a landmark defence strategic review by the former Australian Defence Force chief Angus Houston and the former Labor defence minister Stephen Smith.

The government response is due next month before the May federal budget that is expected to include a rise in defence spending.

On the diplomatic front, Australia has worked to rebuild more stable relations with China, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese meeting XI on the sidelines of a G20 summit late last year and Foreign Minister Penny Wong holding a series of meetings with her Chinese counterparts.

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HMAS Ballarats embarked MH-60R helicopter flies in formation with a United State Navy MH-60R, off the coast of Queensland, during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2021.

Curran said the Albanese government working for more stable relations, while striving to improve Australia's defence capability, had unsettled some "hawkish" commentators.

"There is bi-partisan consensus that Australia wants to ramp up the nation's defences," Curran said.

"Albanese has said there is no way Australia will not increase defence spending." 

Curran also said Australia had a role to play in encouraging Washington and Beijing to resolve their issues, particularly over Taiwan.

"There is a role for statecraft and developing guard rails against conflict … things like (former prime minister) Kevin Rudd has put forward," he said.

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