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Australia: Security official warns of 'drums of war'

China's tensions with Taiwan and trade rows with Australia are prompting concern in Canberra. But some Australian politicians were not happy with one security official's "drums of war" remark.

Australian soldiers in Afghanistan

The official sent out his 'drums of war' message on Australia's Veterans' Day

A senior Australian security official warned that Indo-Pacific nations "again hear the beating drums" of war amid rising tensions, The Australian newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The remarks come as a rift deepens between Australia and China over trade issues and Beijing's approach to Taiwan. 

"Today, as free nations again hear the beating drums and watch worryingly the militarization of issues that we had, until recent years, thought unlikely to be catalysts for war," Department of Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo said in a message to his staff on Sunday.

Pezzullo sent out the message to mark Anzac Day, which honors Australia's veterans. 

On the same occasion, Defense Minister Peter Dutton raised the prospect of conflict between China and Taiwan, saying that he did not think this possibility "should be discounted." 

How have Australian politicians reacted to the remarks?  

Australian officials and lawmakers were split on Pezzullo and Dutton's comments amid rising tensions with Beijing.

In response to Pezzullo's statement, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said "the overarching message from government is that we need to be alert but not alarmed." 

Meanwhile, Premier Mark McGowan of the Western Australia state — which has close trade ties with China —  called on the federal government to "tone down" its language on military tensions. 

Senior opposition Labor Party lawmaker Bill Shorten also raised concern over Pezzullo's reference to "drums of war," describing it as "pretty hyperexcited language."

"I'm not sure our senior public servants should be using that  language because I'm not sure what that actually helps except to cause more anxiety," Shorten said.

What did China say about Taiwan?

In response to Dutton's remarks on Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that Taiwan was part of China's internal affairs and restated Beijing's  rejection of external interference.

"It's hoped that the Australian side will fully recognize that the Taiwan question is highly sensitive, abide by the one-China principle, be prudent in its words and deeds, avoid sending any wrong signals to the Taiwan independence separatist forces and act in ways beneficial to peace and stability," Wang said.

What is the rift between Australia and China? 

Last year, a rift between the two nations was deepened as Australia called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

China — one of Canberra's biggest trade partners — has since imposed tariffs and other restrictions on certain Australian exports. 

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Last week, Australia cancelled two Chinese Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure deals. The move provoked an angry response from Beijing. 

Beijing said the decision would "bring further damage to bilateral relations and will only end up hurting" Australia.

China's military buildup in the South China Sea has also prompted concern in the Indo-Pacific region.

fb/dj (AP, dpa)