Australian Defence Force chief David Hurley says any disruption to key regional sea lanes would have a fundamental impact on Australia.
Defence force chief David Hurley has warned that any disruption to key regional sea lanes threatens Australia's ability to freely trade with Asia.
In an oblique reference to a simmering territorial dispute between China and Japan over islands in the East China Sea, General Hurley said Australia had a key interest in contributing to sustainable security in the region.
"Any disruption to key regional sea lanes and to Australia's ability to trade would have a fundamental impact on our nation," he told the National Security Institute in Canberra on Friday.
General Hurley said while Australia would be affected by security relationships and developments across the region, it had little direct influence over some of them.
He cited the US-China and the China-Japan relationships as key examples.
"And as other middle power states rise, we will need a stronger voice if we are to be heard."
General Hurley said regional economic growth was being translated into military modernisation, warning that it was raising the bar for Australia as it endeavoured to maintain a capability edge.
While the growth of regional military capabilities did not mean there was greater risk of a major conventional attack against Australia, it did raise other issues about strategy, force structure and positioning of assets.
The sorts of advanced platforms, systems and missiles entering the region meant that whenever the ADF deployed, it would potentially face a more dangerous operating environment during the next 20 years.
General Hurley noted that by the end of that period Indonesia's economy would be twice as big as Australia's.
"That development by itself has important repercussions for our security and reinforces how critical our relationship with Indonesia is," he said.