The leaked content of a fiery anti-China speech and secretive briefing to elite military personnel by one of Australia's top generals has landed on the front pages of major newspapers from Sydney to Melbourne to London on Tuesday. The confidential address issued by Major-General Adam Findlay, who was then commander of Australia's special forces and currently advises the Australian Defense Force, had focused on a coming war with China which he said is a "high likelihood". Publication of the speech's full key controversial contents is now threatening to plunge China-Australia relations past breaking point.
The April 2020 briefing given to the country's most elite special forces units was obtained and first published by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and quickly spread to the front page of London's The Times. The general's words were leaked by anonymous sources. He had detailed that China is now engaged in "grey zone" covert operations against Australian and Western allied interests and that Aussie defense forces must prepare for the "high likelihood" of this turning into direct war.
Major-General Findlay was heard in the leaked briefing saying:
"Who do you reckon the main (regional) threat is?" General Findlay asked his troops and officers before answering: "China."
He continued: "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 revelation comes at a moment of hardened and tense relations with Beijing on trade, diplomatic, and even military fronts, despite China long being Australia's biggest single trading partner.
The Sydney Morning Herald summarized further of the leaked briefing's contents as follows:
They say General Findlay told his troops that, if the threat of conflict was realised, the 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.
He also 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.
"We need to make sure we don’t lose momentum... get back in the region," General Findlay said, highlighting Australia’s close ties to Indonesia.
In words sure to add more fuel to the fire of Chinese officials' outrage, Findlay was further described as saying China knew "Western democracies have peace, and then, when they cross a line, we get really angry."
"Then we start bombing people. China said, let’s be smarter. Let’s just play below the threshold, before it goes to war," The Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying.
General Findlay said that to "stop war from breaking out" Australia’s military must compete against the "coercive constraints" imposed on Australia by China. In undertaking its own grey zone missions, Australia’s aim was to "put the adversary at a disadvantage, put us at an advantage" and avoid war.
He's certainly not the first top Aussie official to strongly suggest that a near-future war is coming, but it's being viewed as more serious given it was a classified briefing to special forces commanders, and thus can't be chalked up to a politician expressing opinion or speculation, however provocative.
For example just the day before the leaked contents were exposed Tuesday, Senator Jim Molan wrote in an op-ed in The Australian newspaper that he believes a war is "likely"...
It wouldn’t start as a direct war between Australia and China, but would more likely be a war that Australia could find itself fighting on behalf of its most powerful ally, Senator Molan said.
"Many ordinary Australians, not just those who have personally experienced global conflict, are awakening to the sombre reality that war is not just possible in our region, but likely," he wrote.
"Armed to the teeth, adversaries are maneuvering ships and planes around each other, intimidating and threatening, loaded with real weapons of war, forging alliances."
He said Australia would be making a mistake if leaders do not act now to strengthen a military that is not capable of winning a war against "a peer opponent".
Of course, the "most powerful ally" being referenced here is the United States, revealing the apparent increased anxiety in Canberra that the confrontational attitude between Washington and Beijing being played out even on the ground in places like the South China Sea will inevitably drag Australia into the mix.
There's also the distinct possibility that all of this "drums of war" rhetoric of late coming out of Australian officials' mouths and pens may be part of a coordinated effort at drastically increasing defense spending and psychologically preparing the public for a more confrontational bit of muscle-flexing with Beijing.