‘Respect the facts’: Beijing rejects Australian claims China sonar injured navy divers
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Chinese defense ministry insists its vessel ‘did not conduct any activity that could affect the Australian side’s diving operations’
The Chinese government has accused the federal government of “making trouble” with “rude and irresponsible” claims about the sonar incident that injured Australian navy divers last week.
Beijing overnight rebuffed Canberra’s version of the maritime altercation between two warships off Japan’s coast last Tuesday.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said overnight: “We hope relevant parties will stop making trouble in front of China’s doorsteps and work with China to preserve the momentum of improving and growing China-Australia ties.”
The Australian defence minister, Richard Marles, said on Saturday that several divers from the HMAS Toowoomba sustained injuries from sonar pulses emitted by a Chinese warship in international waters off Japan.
In a Sky News interview on Monday, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said he was “very concerned” about the incident which he called dangerous and reckless. The PM said Australia had lodged “strong objections”.
But the Global Times, a state tabloid newspaper owned by the Chinese Communist Party, published overnight a denial from the national defense ministry spokesperson Wu Qian who said China had lodged complaints of its own with Australia.
“We urge the Australian side to respect the facts, stop rude and irresponsible accusations toward China, engage in endeavors that are conducive in boosting mutual trust, and build a positive atmosphere for developing better bilateral relations and military-to-military ties,” Wu said according to the Global Times.
“The Chinese vessel … kept a safe distance from the Australian vessel and did not conduct any activity that could affect the Australian side’s diving operations”.
According to a transcript published on the website of China’s foreign affairs ministry, spokesperson Mao gave a similar response at a press conference.
“The Chinese military is strictly disciplined and always operates professionally in accordance with international law and international common practices,” she said.
The federal opposition is also demanding to know if Albanese raised the issue with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, when the pair met last week at the Apec summit in the US.
Peter Dutton on Tuesday sought to make the issue a test of Albanese’s personal strength as a leader claiming it should have been raised directly with Xi.
“He [Albanese] owes it to the Australian people. You need a prime minister who is going to tell the truth and he owes that to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force. They want to know when an action is taken against them, the prime minister is going to speak with a really loud voice,” Dutton told Sunrise.
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Albanese told Sky that Australia had made complaints “through all of the appropriate channels in all of the forums that are available”, but declined on several occasions to confirm whether he’d raised it with Xi directly, saying he wouldn’t talk about the content of private meetings. He claimed that protocol was important to preserve open communications with world leaders.
“I can assure you that we raised these issues in the appropriate way and very clearly, unequivocally. There’s no misunderstanding as to Australia’s view on this,” Albanese said.
“When I was in San Francisco, there was no bilateral meeting with president Xi where you give a readout of what the events occurred. I don’t talk about private meetings on the sidelines, discussions I have with any world leader. That’s how you keep communications open.”
Marles’s office confirmed on Monday that the divers involved had recovered and returned to duty.
A spokesperson told Guardian Australia: “Medical assessments conducted after the divers exited the water identified they had sustained minor injuries likely due to being subjected to the sonar pulses from the Chinese destroyer.”