By Lidia Kelly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) -The chance of a conflict involving China over Taiwan "should not be discounted," but Australia will work with its allies in the region to try and maintain peace, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said on Sunday.
Dutton told the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) that China had been increasingly clear about its reunification ambitions with Taiwan.
"I don't think it should be discounted," Dutton said when asked whether the prospects of a battle over Taiwan were growing.
"People need to be realistic about the activity," Dutton added. "There is militarisation of bases across the region. Obviously, there is a significant amount of activity and there is an animosity between Taiwan and China."
China claims democratically-governed Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under Beijing's control.
Taiwan's government says only Taiwan's people can decide its future, and has denounced Chinese threats.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said he hoped Australia was aware of the sensitive nature of the issue and could "avoid sending any wrong signal to Taiwan independence forces".
Australia's diplomatic relations with China, its largest trading partner, have worsened since Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus which was first reported in the Chinese city Wuhan, prompting trade reprisals from Beijing.
Dutton added that while there is a high level of preparedness for the Australian defence force to meet any threats in the region against the country's allies, Canberra will work to try to maintain peace.
"We want to make sure we continue to be a good neighbour in the region, that we work with our partners and with our allies and nobody wants to see conflict between China and Taiwan or anywhere else," Dutton said.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Andrew Heavens)