Tensions between Beijing and Canberra have surged over the past year over the coronavirus pandemic and recent Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific. Now, it has emerged Major-General Adam Findlay gave a confidential briefing to Australia’s special forces last year, warning them of a conflict with Beijing.
Maj-Gen Findlay, who has since stepped down from his post, told his forces China was already engaged in “grey zone” warfare.
The official then said Australia must prepare for the “high likelihood” China’s shadow operations could spill over into actual conflict.
After asking troops who the “main (regional) threat is”, Maj-Gen Findlay said China.
Ge then added: “OK, so if China is a threat, how many special forces brigades in China?
“You should know there are 26,000 Chinese SOF (Special Operations Forces) personnel.”
The leaked briefing was shared by the Sydney Morning Herald, who reported Maj-Gen Findlay issued the warning in April 2020.
Sources told the outlet the official informed troops that if conflict with China happens, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) needed to rely not only on traditional air, land and sea capabilities but also on Australia’s ability to use cyber and space warfare.
They also shared how the official highlighted the need for the ADF to reassert its presence and play “first grade” in south-east Asia and the south-west Pacific, describing how the military had uncovered information showing China was seeking to exploit “our [Australia’s] absence” in the region.
Spotlighting Australia’s relationship with Australia, Maj-Gen Findlay said: “We need to make sure we don’t lose momentum…get back in the region.”
It comes as Australian Government officials have began hardening against China, with Defence Minister Peter Dutton saying a war over Taiwan cannot be discounted.
The minister also stated Australia was “already under attack” in the cyber domain and that he wants to have a “more frank discussion with the public” about China’s intentions.
Michael Pezzullo, the Department of Home Affairs secretary, also warned the “drums of war” were beating.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned last month Australia’s relationship with China is heavily strained.
While he wants a positive relationship with China, Mr Morrison added: “Those relationships can’t be achieved at the product of a less free and a less open Indo-Pacific.”
China has recently condemned Australia, with its state media outlets publishing propaganda against ADF troops.
The Global Times newspaper published a piece alleging Australian troops carried out war crimes in Afghanistan, as the forces are preparing to pull out of the country.
It comes as the UK prepares to send an aircraft carrier strike group to the Indo-Pacific next month as it seeks to boost its presence in the region.
Led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, the group will visit 40 countries, including India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, in a deployment lasting 28 weeks and covering 26,000 nautical miles according to the Royal Navy.
While in the region, ships from the strike group will mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Five Powers Defence Arrangements – a series of loose defence agreements between Australia, Britain, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore.
Song Zhongping, a former instructor with China’s People’s Liberation Army, said Beijing was unlikely to pay much attention to the deployment.
He said: “China will welcome any friendly deployment, but will definitely hit back if Britain becomes provocative near Chinese territory.”