Beijing has cautioned Canberra against making “reckless and impossible accusations against China”, and rejected accusations a Chinese warship injured Australian navy divers.
Over the weekend, Australia accused China of “unsafe and unprofessional” conduct at sea when divers from the HMAS Toowoomba were injured by sonar pulses emitted from a Chinese warship.
The navy was conducting an operation in Japan’s exclusive economic zone last Tuesday when fishing nets became entangled around its propellers.
Despite the vessel notifying a People’s Liberation Army-Navy warship of the operation to clear the nets, and requesting the destroyer keep clear, it approached at a close ran.
Soon after, it operated its hull-mounted sonar in a way that posed a risk to the safety of the Australian divers who were forced to exit the water.
The divers suffered minor injuries.
As questions over whether Prime Minister Anthony Albanese raised the incident when he met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of APEC on Friday continue, China has made a strong statement rejecting Australia’s claims.
Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian on Monday called Australia’s claims “completely untrue”, and said Beijing had made “solemn representations to the Australian side”.
He said the Chinese warship CNS Ningbo was “tracking, monitoring, identifying and verifying in accordance with the law and regulations”.
“We urge the Australian side to respect the facts, stop making reckless and irresponsible accusations against China, do more to build up mutual trust between the two sides, and create a positive atmosphere for the sound development of relations between the two countries and two militaries,” Mr Wu said.
One of Beijing’s foreign ministry spokespeople also defended China’s conduct, maintaining the country’s military was “strictly disciplined and always operates professionally in accordance with the international law and international common practices”.
“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,” Mao Ning said.
The incident came just weeks after Mr Albanese made significant inroads in stabilising the fraught relationship between China and Australia, when he became the first Prime Minister to visit Beijing in seven years.
But while the trading and diplomatic relationship appears to be on the road to recovery, questions around security continue.
The Opposition’s foreign affairs spokesman, James Paterson, on the weekend said China’s actions were “incredibly risky” that was “frankly not the act of a friend”.
He said it contradicted China’s “handsome boy” rhetoric that had surrounded Mr Albanese’s Beijing visit.
“I think when it comes to our very complex and bilateral relationship with the People’s Republic of China, we have to look at the actions of the Chinese Government, not just their words,” he told ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.
“It is very easy to get caught up in the platitude and praise, the handsome boy rhetoric, but things like this, an active decision by the People’s Liberation Army Navy to put Australian Navy personnel in harm’s way and cause harm to them that we should really be judging the Chinese government by.”
The Coalition has been demanding Mr Albanese come clean on whether or not the matter was raised with Mr Xi at APEC.
Mr Albanese on Monday would not confirm or deny whether he had, saying only that it was put “very early, very directly” through all of the “appropriate channels”.
He said he would not reveal what he had spoken to other world leaders about.
“China is in no misunderstanding as to Australia’s view on this,” he said on Monday afternoon.
His government backed him in further on Tuesday morning, with Government Services Minister Bill Shorten saying Mr Albanese “doesn’t dodge questions”.
“He has said that he doesn’t reveal his private conversations with world leaders, but he has made his view clear and Australia has made its view clear,” Mr Shorten told Channel 9.
“What China did was reckless and provocative.”
“We have formally expressed displeasure of what the Chinese navy did because it was reckless and dangerous.”