One of Australia's top national security officials has warned that free nations "again hear the beating drums" of war, as military tensions rise in the Asia-Pacific region.
Australian home affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo said in his Anzac Day message, released on Sunday that Australia should do everything in its power to find peace "until we are faced with the only prudent, if sorrowful, course" of opting for war.
"In a world of perpetual tension and dread, the drums of war beat – sometimes faintly and distantly, and at other times more loudly and ever closer," Pezzullo said.
"Today, as free nations again hear the beating drums and watch worryingly the militarisation of issues that we had, until recent years, thought unlikely to be catalysts for war, let us continue to search unceasingly for the chance for peace while bracing again, yet again, for the curse of war," he added.
Australian home affairs minister Karen Andrews said she had approved of the wording of Pezzullo's message.
"He is absolutely at liberty to prepare such a speech, a document, and to have that published," Andrews told Australia's Nine Network television.
"The overarching message from government is that we need to be alert but not alarmed," she said.
Senior Australian opposition lawmaker Bill Shorten described Pezzullo's reference to "drums of war" as "pretty hyperexcited language", saying "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".
Australian defence minister Peter Dutton raised the prospect of conflict between China and Taiwan in his own comments on Anzac Day.
"Nobody wants to see conflict between China and Taiwan or anywhere else in the world," Dutton told Australian Broadcasting Corp. "I don't think it should be discounted," he said.
Pezzullo noted that this year marks the 70th anniversary of Australia's defence treaty with the United States. He cited US wartime generals Douglas MacArthur and President Dwight Eisenhower, saying Australians should not forget the lessons of World War II and the subsequent build-up of Soviet military power.
"Let us remember the warnings of two American generals who had known war waged totally and brutally: we must search always for the chance for peace amidst the curse of war, until we are faced with the only prudent, if sorrowful, course — to send off, yet again, our warriors to fight the nation's wars," he said.
Australia must reduce the likelihood of war, "but not at the cost of our precious freedom," Pezzullo said.
Australia last week provoked an angry response from Beijing by cancelling two Chinese Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure deals with the Victoria state government on national interest grounds. The Chinese Embassy in Australia said in a statement the decision would "bring further damage to bilateral relations and will only end up hurting" Australia.
US expects Australia's help in Taiwan
Relations between Australia and its largest trading partner have dramatically soured since early 2020 in fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was the first world leader to call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus, sparking fury from Beijing and sharp retaliation via an escalating series of trade sanctions and increasingly hostile rhetoric.
At the same time, China has aggressively ramped up its military activity in the South China Sea and over Taiwanese air space.
Last month, America's chargé d'affaires in Canberra, Michael Goldman, hinted that Washington expects Australia to participate in Taiwan's defence.
"There's a lot of focus on overt, crude military intervention," Goldman told the Australian National University's National Security podcast.
"I'd just like to say that we're focused on that, of course. But then we're also concerned with all sorts of other aspects of coercion that don't quite reach the level of a military invasion. You can think of all sorts of things ranging from a blockade to cyber incursions to, you know, lobbing missiles over the island."
Military analysts, meanwhile, have warned that Australia is woefully underprepared for any potential conflict, particularly against China.
"Barely discussed is that an unimaginable range of Australian military and civilian facilities and infrastructure can be knocked out by [China's] cruise missiles," aerospace analyst Bradley Perrett wrote for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in February.
"We endlessly debate the cost of submarine programmes, but where, exactly, does the Royal Australian Navy expect to refuel and restock these vessels after each war patrol? Which facilities are expected not to be smoking ruins?"
Additional reporting: news.com.au