Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese publicly denounced China on Monday for what he described as a “dangerous” encounter between Chinese and Australian warships in international waters. The incident, involving a Chinese destroyer and an Australian frigate, has sparked tensions between the two nations, with Australia lodging strong objections to China’s actions.
During a press briefing, Prime Minister Albanese revealed that the dangerous encounter occurred last Tuesday when a Chinese destroyer used sonar near an Australian frigate. The incident resulted in injuries to one Australian diver who was underwater attempting to clear fishing nets tangled in the ship’s propellers. Albanese termed China’s actions as “unsafe and unprofessional.”
Defense Minister Richard Marles, who expressed serious concerns about China’s behavior, indicated that he had raised the issue with Beijing. However, China’s defense ministry spokesperson, Wu Qian, dismissed Australia’s allegations as “completely untrue.”
The encounter took place around the time when Albanese held discussions with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific leaders’ summit in San Francisco. However, Albanese declined to disclose details of the conversation, describing it as a private meeting rather than a formal bilateral session.
“I don’t talk about private meetings on the sidelines, discussions I have with any world leader,” Albanese stated during an interview with Sky News. He emphasized that Australia had conveyed its strong objections to China through appropriate channels.
Despite efforts to address the issue diplomatically, Albanese admitted that the incident had damaged Australia’s relationship with China. Opposition lawmakers accused the prime minister of weak leadership, suggesting that he prioritized maintaining a positive relationship over addressing the concerns of the Australian people.
The encounter has highlighted longstanding concerns about the actions of the Chinese navy and air force in the western Pacific, with the U.S., Canadian, and Australian militaries previously expressing dissatisfaction. Analysts fear that such incidents could escalate into a larger conflict.
Australia contends that the Chinese destroyer operated its sonar while Australian naval divers were conducting operations underwater. The Toowoomba, an Australian ship, reportedly notified the Chinese vessel of the ongoing diving activities and requested it to keep a safe distance. However, the Ningbo, the Chinese destroyer, approached using hull-mounted sonar equipment, endangering the divers and forcing them out of the water.
China’s defense ministry denied Australia’s account, asserting that the interaction did not occur within Japan’s exclusive economic zone. Spokesperson Wu insisted that the destroyer adhered to international laws and regulations, maintaining a safe distance and not interfering with the Australian divers’ operations.
As tensions persist, China called on Australia to “respect the facts” and cease making “reckless and irresponsible accusations.” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning urged both parties to work together to sustain positive momentum in their relations.