Albanese criticises China over ‘dangerous’ use of warship’s sonar that injured an Australian naval diver

Canberra, November 20

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Monday criticised China for a “dangerous” encounter between Chinese and Australian warships but declined to say whether he had raised the issue in recent talks with President Xi Jinping.

He said one Australian diver was injured when a Chinese destroyer used sonar while near an Australian frigate in international waters last Tuesday.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Saturday he had raised serious concerns with Beijing about the destroyer’s unsafe and unprofessional behaviour.

Between the encounter and Marles’ statement, Albanese spoke to Xi on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Leaders’ summit in San Francisco.

Albanese said on Monday his discussions with Xi were private, rather than a formal bilateral meeting in which content summaries are made public.

“I don’t talk about private meetings on the sidelines, discussions I have with any world leader,” Albanese said in his Parliament House office.

“It’s something that is a regrettable incident. That’s why we have put our strong objections to China clearly and directly through all of the appropriate channels in all the forums that are available to us,” Albanese said.

Opposition lawmakers have accused Albanese of failing to raise the encounter with Xi because the Australian leader did not want to risk setting back an improving bilateral relationship.

“Weaker leadership from Anthony Albanese who appears to be prioritising photo ops with Xi Jinping over speaking up for our people. Disgraceful,” senior opposition lawmaker Sussan Ley posted on social media.

Albanese recently became the first Australian Prime Minister to visit China in seven years is a sign that relations have improved since Ley’s coalition government was voted out of office in 2022 after nine years in power.

The US, Canadian and Australian militaries have complained multiple times about what they say have been dangerous actions by the Chinese Navy and Air Force in the western Pacific. Analysts fear a collision or other accident could spark an international incident and escalate into conflict.

Australia said the Chinese destroyer Ningbo operated its sonar while Australian naval divers were underwater trying to clear fishing nets that tangled the propellers of their ship HMAS Toowoomba.

Albanese said one diver was injured. Defence officials have not specified the injuries or number of divers, but media have reported the divers’ ears were injured.

Analysts say sonar can cause extensive soft tissue damage to divers at close range.

Australia says the Toowoomba notified the Ningbo that diving operations were underway and asked the Chinese keep clear.

But the Ningbo approached using a hull-mounted sonar equipment, placing the divers at risk and forcing them from the water, defence officials say.

The Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper on Sunday questioned the Australian version that the Toowoomba was in international waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone when it encountered the Ningbo.

If the Toowoomba had been near Chinese islands or a Chinese military training exercise, the Australian warship would have provoked the Chinese, an unnamed military expert said.

Albanese said the incident “does do damage” to Australia’s relationship with China.

“This was dangerous, it was unsafe and unprofessional from the Chinese forces,” Albanese said.

#China #Xi Jinping

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