Unusually blunt language from Defence Minister Kevin Andrews – directed at Australia’s largest trading partner – raised eyebrows at a regional security conference in May.
It showed just how worrying the rising tensions in our region have become.
“We remain concerned by any developments in the South and East China Sea which raise tensions in the region,” Mr Andrews said.
“Australia has made clear its opposition to any coercive or unilateral actions to change the status quo in the South and East China Sea,” he said. “This includes any large scale land reclamation activity by claimants in the South China Sea.”
“We are particularly concerned at the prospect of militarisation of artificial structures.”
Such undiplomatic language directed at China reflects a changed situation in a vast continent. The enrichment and empowerment of many Asian states is driving growing rivalries.
Geography explains a lot: Asia is divided into two separate strategic realms by an almost unbroken chain of mountains, from the Bosporus to the South China Sea. South of this, along Asia’s southern strategic tier, an arms race is brewing.
Michael Wesley is Professor of International Affairs at ANU and the author of Restless Continent, published by Black Inc, of which this is an edited extract.