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SYDNEY, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said a Chinese warship acted in a dangerous manner during an incident with an Australian navy vessel that injured a military diver, his first comments on the matter which he said had damaged ties.
HMAS Toowoomba – a long-range frigate – was conducting a diving operation in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone on Nov. 14 to clear fishing nets from its propellers when the incident occurred, Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Saturday.
Albanese, who met briefly with Chinese president Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in San Francisco last week, has come under domestic political pressure over whether he raised the matter with the Chinese leader.
In an interview on Monday with Sky News Australia, Albanese said the incident hurt one person and showed the need for “communication guardrails” between militaries.
“This was dangerous, it was unsafe and unprofessional from the Chinese warship,” he said.
Albanese said the incident was raised through “all of the normal channels,” but didn’t disclose if it was discussed in his private meeting with Xi at APEC.
“The consequences of these events are that they do damage to the relationship. And this certainly is an event that does do damage. And we’ve made that very clear to China,” he added.
A People’s Liberation Army Navy destroyer closed towards HMAS Toowoomba, despite the Australian vessel notifying the Chinese warship of a diving operation, and operated its hull-mounted sonar in a manner that posed a safety risk, Marles previously said.
Medical assessments found minor injuries to divers likely caused by the destroyer’s sonar, the defense minister added.
China’s defense ministry responded on Monday saying that Australia’s remarks were inconsistent with the facts and Beijing had lodged complaint to Canberra.
The Chinese destroyer Ningbo monitored and identified HMAS Toowoomba, all while keeping a safe distance from it and did not carry out any activities that might affect the diving operations of the Australian side, the ministry said in a statement.
“We urge the Australian side to respect the facts and stop making reckless and irresponsible accusations against China,” it said.
Albanese visited China this month, the first Australian leader to do so in seven years, agreeing to restart an annual leaders’ dialog.
China’s embassy in Australia referred to comments by China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning at a regular media briefing in Beijing on Monday, that China’s military “is always highly disciplined and conducts professional operations in accordance with international law and international practice.”
“We hope the relevant party will stop stirring up trouble at China’s doorstep and work with us to jointly sustain the momentum of the improvement and development of China-Australia relations,” she added.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Additional reporting by Bernard Orr and Ethan Wang in Beijing; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Bernadette Baum and Alex Richardson)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.
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