The Australian defence minister, Peter Dutton, has said a conflict involving China over Taiwan cannot be discounted but he insists the government’s focus remains on having “good relations” with Beijing.

Dutton was on Sunday asked about the prospect of a “battle over Taiwan” following remarks from the former defence minister, Christopher Pyne, and the ex-prime minister, Tony Abbott, about China’s expansionist plans in the region.

“I don’t think it [conflict] should be discounted,” Dutton told ABC’s Insiders.

“China has been very clear about the reunification and that’s been a long-held objective of theirs. They have been very clear about that goal.

“People need to be realistic about the activity. 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.”

Dutton said Australia wanted to continue being “a good neighbour in the region” that worked with its partners and allies. “Nobody wants to see conflict between China and Taiwan or anywhere else,” he said.

The minister stressed Australia was focused on continuing “good relations” with China.

“We have good relations with a number of countries, including China, a very important trading partner. We have an incredible diaspora community here in Australia, people who have contributed to our country over generations that are incredibly important Australians. But we do have a difference of opinion with the ideals of the communist party of China. Let’s be very frank about it.”

Dutton said Australia was prepared for any conflict and while it planned to stay in “peacetime” the ADF was ready to meet potential threats.

“There is a high level of preparedness, as there should be, as there always will be, for our Australian Defence Force to meet the threats that we see in our region toward our country, against our allies,” he said.

The outbreak of a war over Taiwan would be “disastrous” for the region, the chief of the Australian defence force warned earlier in April.

General Angus Campbell at the time indicated Australia would keep pushing for peaceful dialogue and urged countries to “all work to avoid” conflict over the future of Taiwan.

The newly appointed defence minister, who was promoted to the portfolio in a reshuffle last month, also again defended his decision to reinstate the medals stripped from 3,000 SAS soldiers who served in Afghanistan in the wake of the damning Brereton inquiry.

Dutton said the “vast majority” of ADF personnel had done the right thing and he did not believe the actions of a few should diminish their service – despite the allegations being “very confronting.”

“I believed it was in the best interests of our defence personnel and of the organisation, and I also believe very strongly that for the 3,000 who were recognised during this process, that the vast majority of them have done the right thing,” Dutton said.

“They have acted with distinction, they have served our country with pride, we’re incredibly proud of that service.”

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Australia has announced it will bring home its remaining troops from Afghanistan by September following a similar announcement by the United States.

Dutton said on Sunday he thought it was “very unlikely” that Australian forces would be redeployed in the short term – even if the Taliban was resurgent.

“The fact is there has been a withdrawal now … and we don’t have any plans to go back in,” he said. “I can’t see how that is possible in the foreseeable future. I think there would be a different way of dealing with those threats than troops on the ground.”



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