Defence Minister Peter Dutton has compared the behaviour of the Chinese government to the World War II build-up of the 1930s in a speech to American business lobbyists.
The activities and rhetoric of Beijing officials had grown increasingly bellicose and coercive, he said, driven by a zero-sum mentality.
The geopolitical climate had "echoes of the 1930s", he warned, a period dominated by the rise of Nazi Germany and Japan's invasion of Manchuria and China.
Mr Dutton, who along with Assistance Defence Minister Andrew Hastie are among of the most hawkish of the Morrison government's frontbench on China, named only the Chinese Communist Party for undermining the sovereignty of other nations.
"We are grappling with a regional environment far-more complex and far-less predictable than at any time since the Second World War," he said.
China had happily benefited for decades from the global rules based order it was now undermining, he said.
His remarks were made in a speech on Wednesday about the Australian-American alliance and the build-up of Australia's offensive military capability. The American Chamber of Commerce in Australia event was sponsored by former ambassador to the US Joe Hockey's business lobbying firm Bondi Partners.
It comes as Beijing's foreign affair spokesman Wang Wenbin said the current difficulties in the China-Australia relations were entirely of Australia's own making and urged the Australian government to "abandon the Cold War mentality".
"The Australian side should also stop playing up 'coercive China' narrative for selfish political gain and do more to enhance mutual trust and promote practical cooperation between the two countries, rather than the opposite," Mr Wang told reporters on Wednesday.
Senior public servant Michael Pezzullo raised the rising global tensions, saying the "drums of war" were beating in a message to Department of Home Affairs employees in April.
This week, Australia's top national security official, Caroline Millar, said the current geopolitical environment was unlike earlier eras.
"I think we have to be very careful about [making those] parallels," she told an ANU Crawford Leadership Forum discussion on multilateralism this week, but acknowledged there were similarities in international blocs forming in global institutions reminiscent of the Cold War.
"You do see the Chinese, for example, running candidates - lot of them quite successfully putting their nationals in, in a way that is slightly reminiscent of what the Soviets did in earliest stages."
The situation was much more fluid than existed previously in those institutions, she noted. Australia's allies in on forum may not carry over that support into another forum.
"You can leverage that goodwill to try and get better outcomes than you would otherwise but it's a very complex environment, and one on which I think we have to be very rigorous, very focused and very collaborative while still remaining very alert."
Mr Dutton also confirmed he and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne will be travelling to the Washington for the Australian-United States Ministerial talks this year. The US government announced the change of venue last week, after previously planning to hold the bilateral talks in Australia.
It will be the first AUSMIN talks between Australia and the Biden administration.