China’s expanding military capacity is a normal part of economic growth and should not be seen as a threat, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says.
China this month announced its annual military budget would rise 12 per cent to around $143 billion.
Many of its neighbours are alarmed at the growth, which has been in the double-digits for the past two decades and enabled China to flex its muscle around disputed territories in the region.
Ahead of his visit to China next month, Mr Abbott on Thursday told the Nikkei newswire China’s rise was a “good thing” globally.
“It’s good for them, it’s good for their country, it’s good for other countries because we contribute to that and that contributes to us through the … stronger trading relationships that inevitably accompany that and of development,” Mr Abbott said.
“Now, whenever one country gets much stronger economically, it will normally develop a stronger military capacity and so on.
“We should just accept this as a normal part, a normal accompaniment, of economic development.
“We shouldn’t assume that a stronger military means a higher threat.”
Mr Abbott said Australia could maintain a friendship simultaneously with South Korea, Japan and China despite their competing interests.
“Making new friends doesn’t mean losing old ones, and it’s possible to increase your friendship with one country without reducing your friendship with another country.”
He said the three Asian nations had had difficult relationships in the past but any tension between them “damages all of them”.
“My view is that it’s overwhelmingly in the self-interest of Japan, Korea and China for their relationships to improve.
“Our objective is to have more friends and fewer opponents.”
Mr Abbott said the fact Australia, Japan, China and Korea were working together to help with the recovery and investigation of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 showed “the things we have in common are more important than anything that divides us”.