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China denies ship hurt Australian divers with sonar


Chinese officials have denied that one of the country’s warships harmed Australian divers in an incident Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called dangerous and unprofessional.

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Australian authorities said a Chinese warship injured Australian military personnel from the HMAS Toowoomba off the coast of Japan last Tuesday with sonar pulses.

The Australians were operating in international waters in support of a United Nations mission when the incident happened.

The divers suffered minor injuries to their ears.

China’s defence ministry said on Monday evening that the People’s Liberation Army Navy destroyer did not carry out any activities that might affect Australian diving operations.

“China kept a safe distance from the Australian ship,” a statement from China’s defence ministry said, adding that Australia’s remarks on the incident were “completely inconsistent with the facts”.

“We urge the Australian side to respect the facts and stop making reckless and irresponsible accusations against China,” it said.

Earlier on Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters China’s military “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,” she added.

The incident happened before the prime minister left on Wednesday for San Francisco but was not revealed until Saturday when he met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the APEC economic leaders’ summit.

Albanese said he was “very concerned” about the incident.

“This was dangerous, it was unsafe and unprofessional from the Chinese forces,” he said.

“That’s why we’ve made it very clear to the Chinese of our strong objections to this occurrence.”

Asked if he raised the incident with the Chinese leader, Albanese said he does not talk about private meetings “on the sidelines” with world leaders.

“But I can assure you that we raised these issues in the appropriate way and very clearly, unequivocally,” he said.

“There’s no misunderstanding as to Australia’s view on this.”

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the attack “put at risk Australians who put on a uniform every day to fight for our country,” adding those views had been made known to China.

O’Neil said the government would not play politics with the countries’ complex relationship.

“This is one of the largest countries in the world, we are going to have to find a way to coexist in our region over the coming decades,” she said.

The opposition and crossbenchers have been calling for the prime minister to explicitly say whether he raised the incident with the Chinese president.

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie said the issue should be raised at the leader level.

“You can’t sit there and pretend you’re going to be nice on trade while this is going on with your own navy people that could have brought more harm to them,” she told Sky News on Monday.

“This is just ridiculous. What happened to the friendship and the trust that we’re building and all the rest?”

Australia and China are working to stabilise their diplomatic relationship following years of tension that developed during the term of the last coalition government.


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