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Minister Emphasizes Personnel Safety as Top Priority in Response to Chinese Sonar Incident

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong has reiterated the government’s concern after a Chinese warship used a sonar device near an Australian navy vessel injuring personnel.

On Nov. 14, a Chinese destroyer approached an area where the Australian Navy’s HMAS Toowoomba was conducting a mission in international waters inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Despite warnings that Australian navy personnel were in the water, the Chinese destroyer turned on its hull-mounted sonar, forcing divers who were operating near the frigate to exit, suffering minor injuries.

“The safety and wellbeing of Australian defence personnel is our utmost priority,” Senator Wong said at a joint press conference with her Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi on Nov. 21.

“We have raised our serious concerns with the Chinese authorities following what we regard as unsafe and unprofessional interaction with the [People’s Liberation Army or PLA] navy destroyer.

“These events occurred within Japan’s EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] and international waters and Australia’s principled position is that we expect all countries, including ourselves, to operate militaries in a safe and professional manner.”

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 Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong looks on during a joint press conference in Makati, Philippines on May 18, 2023. (Lisa Marie David - Pool/Getty Images)
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong looks on during a joint press conference in Makati, Philippines on May 18, 2023. (Lisa Marie David – Pool/Getty Images)

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who was criticised for not raising the issue with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping at a recent APEC meeting on Nov. 17, said the incident was raised through “all of the normal channels.”

“This was dangerous. It was unsafe and unprofessional from the Chinese warship,” he told Sky News on Nov. 20.

“The consequences of these events are that they do damage to the relationship, and this certainly is an event that does do damage. We’ve made that very clear to China.”

Beijing Accuses Australia of ‘Making Trouble’

Beijing, on the other hand, accused Australia of “making trouble” by coming up with “rude” and “irresponsible” accusations.

Wu Qian, a spokesperson for China’s national defense ministry said the destroyer did not carry out any activities that might have affected the divers and “kept a safe distance from the Australian ship.”

“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,” he said according to The Global Times, the CCP’s mouthpiece.

In response to the incident, the communist regime’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning claimed the Chinese military was “strictly disciplined” and always “operated professionally in accordance with the international law and international common practices,” she told reporters.

Senator Wong and Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles held the “2+2 Dialogue”  talks with their Indian counterparts on Nov. 20 to discuss the two countries’ cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and mutual concerns about Beijing, among others.

India’s relations with the CCP have deteriorated since a 2020 border clash between their militaries in which 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese troops were killed.

Ms. Wong said Australia and India both had very substantive economic relationships with China, and recognized its importance in the region.

Australia “will cooperate where we can, will disagree where we must, and will engage in our national interest,” she added.

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