The Australian prime minister has leveled accusations against the Chinese navy, describing their conduct in international waters near Japan as “dangerous, unsafe, and unprofessional.” This incident has emerged as a potential source of tension with Beijing, coming just weeks after the Prime Minister visited the Chinese capital intending to stabilize relations.
On November 14, Australian divers aboard the long-range frigate HMAS Toowoomba were engaged in clearing fishing nets from its propellers when a Chinese destroyer approached, as revealed by Australia’s Defense Minister Richard Marles in a statement on Saturday. Despite receiving a warning about an ongoing diving operation, the Chinese destroyer operated its sonar in a manner that, according to the statement, “posed a risk to the safety of the Australian divers who were forced to exit the water.” According to the statement, medical assessments revealed that the divers had incurred minor injuries.
In an interview with Sky News Monday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed deep concern over the incident revealing that one person suffered an injury as a result of the actions of China. When asked about whether he discussed the incident with Chinese leader Xi Jinping during their meeting at the APEC summit in San Francisco last Thursday, Albanese declined to confirm.
Anthony Albanese conveyed that the concerns were addressed appropriately and clearly, emphasizing that the concerns were raised appropriately, and there is no misunderstanding as to Australia’s view on this with China.
The incident occurred a week after Albanese made a landmark visit to Beijing, marking the first trip by an Australian leader in seven years. The purpose of the visit was to stabilize bilateral ties, which had been characterized by years of economic tension.
In his statement on Saturday, Marles conveyed that the Australian government had communicated “serious concerns” to the Chinese government regarding what it characterized as an unsafe and unprofessional interaction with a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) destroyer.
The statement mentioned that, according to medical assessments, the divers had sustained minor injuries, likely attributed to exposure to sonar pulses from the Chinese destroyer.
It was explained in the statement that military ships use sonar to detect and locate objects in the water, and divers exposed to high levels of underwater sound can encounter feelings of dizziness, suffer hearing impairment, or sustain injuries to other delicate organs, depending on the frequency and intensity of the sound.
Marles’ statement outlined that the HMAS Toowoomba had been in Japan’s exclusive economic zone conducting operations in support of United Nations sanctions enforcement and was en route to commence a scheduled port visit to Japan.
Marles emphasized that Australia expects all countries, including China, to operate their militaries professionally and safely.
The significance of the South China Sea for China extends beyond political legitimacy domestically, as it holds crucial importance for its energy resources and strategic positioning, according to analysts. The South China Sea is regarded as a key element of China’s defense strategy and is considered a vital area for its sea-based nuclear deterrent as highlighted by analysts. China predominantly stations its nuclear ballistic missile submarines in Hainan Island, therefore the South China Sea is the focal point for projecting a second-strike capability against potential adversaries like the US and India.