Australia’s Defense Minister, Peter Dutton, said the U.S. and its allies must exert greater pressure on China after they “acquiesced and allowed” Beijing to expand its footprint in the South China Sea over the last decade.

According to Sydney Morning Herald, Mr. Dutton said, “I think we’ve lost a considerable period of time where China gave assurances about their activity in the South China Sea.”

“And the United States and others acquiesced and allowed the militarisation now to the point where China has 20 points of presence in the South China Sea, which does not help stability in the region.

“If we continue on that trajectory, then I think we’ll lose the next decade. And my sense is that we’re better off being honest about that.”

Over the last decade, China has increased its control over the South China Sea by erecting artificial structures on disputed territory and dispatching large ships to prevent neighboring countries from extracting fish and energy from the seas.

Dutton’s remarks come ahead of a Quad security partnership meeting in Australia later this month, attended by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and counterparts from Japan and India. The four-nation group has met more frequently as it looks to counter China’s rise in the region.

Dutton did not elaborate in the interview on what more the U.S. and its allies could do in the waters to deter China. However, he also stated that by 2038, Australia would have its nuclear-powered submarine.

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