Mark McGowan reiterates calls to ‘tone down’ China rhetoric following release of Defence Strategic Review

Premier Mark McGowan has reiterated calls to “tone down the rhetoric” about China in the wake of the release of a landmark review of the nation’s defence strategy and capabilities that directly identifies the Asian giant as a potential threat.

Speaking just days after returning from a visit to China, Mr McGowan conceded said he had not read the Defence Strategic Review that was released on Monday and highlighted Beijing’s rapid military build-up as “the largest and most ambitious of any country since the end of the Second World War”.

The review went on to say China’s “assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea threatens the global rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific in a way that adversely impacts Australia’s national interests.”

Asked whether the language contained in the review — authored by former defence minister Stephen Smith and former chief of the defence force Angus Houston — was at odds with Mr McGowan’s repeated calls for greater diplomatic engagement with China, the Premier said it was important Australia was a “voice of reason”.

“We need to not use inflammatory language,” he said.

“And we should get on with our trading partner, which is China, and have a strong alliance with the United States. All those things are not inconsistent. It just makes sense.”

Mr McGowan would not be drawn on whether he regarded the language in the review as inflammatory, insisting he had not read the document and then deflecting when passages relating directly to China were read to him.

The Premier said he supported Australia’s foreign policy goals and freedom of movement through the South China Sea but that “I also support us just having a constructive relationship with countries in our region”.

“And that is actually in our security interests to have a good relationship – a strong economic, social and cultural relationship with the countries in the regions in which we are,” he added.

“I just think we need to calm down and tone down the rhetoric.”

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