Christopher Pyne, former Australian defence minister, warned that an armed conflict may be likely with China due to its ongoing aggressive behaviour. Tensions between the two nations have ramped up since last April when Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

The virus was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019 before becoming a global pandemic.

Mr Morrison’s attempts to gain transparency over the origins of the disease angered China’s ruling Communist Party who later imposed bans and tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Australian goods.

But experts have warned that tensions between the two nations could get a lot worse in the near future and even lead to a possible military conflict.

In a speech at the University of Adelaide, Mr Pyne said: “Five years ago, I would have said that the possibility was very unlikely – now I would have to say that the possibility is more likely than it was then.

“Not a cyber war, but a real one involving loss of life, destruction of military platforms, with aggressors and defenders on different sides.

“This isn’t rhetoric. This is something that you and I may well have to confront in the next five to 10 years.”

The former defence minister warned that the “most concerning” issue that could lead to an armed conflict would be a result of China’s aggression towards Taiwan.

Beijing has claimed sovereignty over the whole of Taiwan, a democracy of around 24 million people.

The two nations have been governed separately for over seven decades.

However, Beijing has claimed ownership of the independent island under its ‘One China’ policy which demands there is only one sovereign state under the name China.

China’s Communist Party has previously threatened to take Taiwan by force if diplomatic efforts do not succeed.

Earlier this year Beijing issued a stark warning to the island nation that “independence means war”.

Speaking at a press briefing, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said: “The military activities carried out by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the Taiwan Strait are necessary actions to address the current security situation in the Taiwan Strait and to safeguard national sovereignty and security.”

He added: “We warn those ‘Taiwan independence’ elements: those who play with fire will burn themselves, and ‘Taiwan independence’ means war.”

Mr Pyne also warned that China’s military is “very capable in an asymmetric war against the US and its allies around the island chains of the western Indo-Pacific and South East Asia — Australia is one of those allies.”

He added: “Australia is one of those allies. For that reason and many others, avoiding any kind of war is our paramount defence and foreign policy priority as a nation.”