26 February, 2024
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Navy clash casts shadow over meeting with Chinese envoy

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A Chinese diplomat has poured cold water over Australia’s claims about a naval incident as he prepares to meet the foreign minister.

Penny Wong will host Liu Jianchao, the head of China’s international liaison department, in Canberra on Wednesday.

Their meeting follows an incident involving a Chinese warship and Australian divers, which took place earlier this month in international waters in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

The destroyer switched on its undersea sonar while personnel from the Australian HMAS Toowoomba were trying to clear fishing nets from the ship’s propellers.

At least one diver sustained minor injuries.

The Australian government has expressed serious concerns to China over what it called unsafe and unprofessional conduct.

Mr Liu suggested the incident arose from Australia’s behaviour in the region that gave “Chinese people a message that Australian naval vessels are there to contain China”.

“What would happen if a Chinese naval ship came to your waters or waters near Australia? Naturally you send your ships to monitor and identify,” he told the Australia-China Relations Institute.

“We do urge the Australian government and military to act with great prudence in this area.” 

He warned such incidents could easily escalate if not managed properly.

The envoy called for both nations to improve trust and economic co-operation while managing their differences, suggesting Australia and China could work together on development challenges in the Pacific.

Australia’s navy chief said the federal government communicated effectively its position to Beijing. 

“We don’t have a direct relationship between our navy and the PLA Navy,” Vice Admiral Mark Hammond said. 

“This is an issue for government, I’m very comfortable with the way the government’s dealt with it.”

Two Chinese fighter jets also circled Australian and Philippine aircraft participating in patrols around the South China Sea.

Mr Liu will also meet opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham, who said the incident highlighted “a pattern of dangerous behaviour in the way that Chinese People’s Liberation Army engages across the region”.

He urged the government to raise the issue with Beijing.

“Australia should be standing firm in our principles, making clear our concerns about the way China engages,” he said. 

He said the actions of the Chinese military endangered lives and increased the risk of an accident or a miscalculation. 

“These are dangerous activities in the way the Chinese military operates, and they should be called out,” he said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has refused to say whether he raised the issue with Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the APEC summit, several days before the incident was made public.

with Reuters

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