CANBERRA, Feb 26 (Bernama) — Australia’s Defence White Paper has shown that Australia will almost double its defence spending within the next 15 years in order to keep up with what it called the “unprecedented transformation” occurring in the Indo-Pacific region, reports China’s Xinhua news agency.
Defence Minister Marise Payne said the Australian government is set to raise the annual defence budget from US$23.5 billion in 2016/17 to US$42.5 billion by 2025/26 – in line with its promise to raise defence spending up to 2.O per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2023.
Dr Amy King, from the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, told Xinhua the White Paper was a measured response to the “modernization” of military forces in the immediate Southeast Asian region.
The paper, released this week, outlines the major investment in the defence department on the grounds that “Asia’s defence spending is now larger than Europe’s”.
The Defence Department also cited other reasons for the sudden growth in funding and military interest – Payne said a number of “complex security challenges” such as the threat posed by terrorist outfits such as Islamic State (IS) also justified the budget.
Under the plan, more than US$140 billion will be poured into strengthening Australia’s maritime and air force defence systems, with 12 new submarines to be built locally, while nine new frigates, 12 offshore patrol vessels and 15 new aircraft have all been given the green light.
Along with a further 2,500 ground troops and a new fleet of armoured vehicles also in the works, the government highlighted the need to provide Australia’s construction industry with stable employment over the next decade.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Thursday that China was “dissatisfied” about some “negative” remarks surrounding the South China Sea in the white paper.
“It mentions Australia is willing to enhance cooperation with China, China welcomes that and hopes it can translate these positive statements into concrete actions.”
“We also noticed that this white paper made some remarks about South China Sea and East China Sea…These remarks are negative and we are dissatisfied about this.”
However the federal government said that spending money on an improved defence force was no cause for concern.
Following Beijing’s comments, Payne told the ABC on Thursday evening that despite the South China Sea being a “point of difference” between the two nations, Australia and China share a number of “significant relationships” – such as those in trade and defence.
“We obviously have very significant relationships with China across a range of areas and not least of which is our trading relationship,” she said.
“But importantly as part of our defence relationship we work with the PLA Navy, with the PLA itself.”
Meanwhile King said Australia’s interest in the region was formed on the basis that a number of major trading partners were involved in the South China Sea ‘dispute’. She said Australia had no interest in causing further “destabilisation”.
“(The paper) is reflecting that while Australia doesn’t face a direct threat, but it does note the region is become tenser because of those disputes,” King told Xinhua.
Credit to Matt Walsh.