Anthony Albanese has slammed China over a “dangerous” incident involving Australian navy divers who were forced to exit the water after an incident with a Chinese warship off the coast of Japan.
The Prime Minister has revealed Australia had “raised it very clearly through all the normal channels” but refused to confirm or deny whether he brought it up directly in a meeting with China’s Xi Jinping last week.
“I can assure you, we raised these issues in the appropriate way and very clearly, unequivocally. China is in no misunderstanding on Australia’s view on this,’’ he told Sky News.
Australia has confirmed the naval personnel were hurt on Tuesday while performing a mission in support of United Nations sanctions enforcement.
Naval divers were in the water to cut fishing nets away from an Australian frigate’s propellers when a Chinese ship approached and emitted dangerous sonar pulses.
The Navy had alerted surrounded vessels that divers were in the water using the usual maritime channels but the Chinese vessel acknowledged the message and continued to come closer, activating its hull-mounted sonar.
Under fire over whether he had raised the issue directly with the Chinese, Mr Albanese told Sky News that there was no confusion over Australia’s position.
“This was dangerous, it was unsafe and unprofessional from the Chinese forces,’’ Mr Albanese said.
“One person suffered an injury as a result of the actions of China.”
“This is the sort of incident I’ve spoken about … why we need communication and guard rails, and we need to avoid reckless events like this. This is why we’ve made our strong objections to China.
Mr Albanese said the recent talks with China did not mean Australia was afraid to raise criticism
“Well, what I said when I was in China is that we will cooperate where we can and disagree where we must,’’ Mr Albanese said.
“This is one of those occasions where we disagree with the action of China. We’ve made it clear that we disagree with what occurred in the strongest possible terms. This should not have occured.”
Mr Albanese said the issue was raised in the “appropriate way” but declined to say exactly who he had spoken to or when.
The Prime Minister took a swipe at deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley and former Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisting he would not discuss private conversations or leak text messages.
“She was part of the government that couldn’t get a return phone call for years. During the entire last term there was no communication whatsoever,’’ he said.
The opposition’s defence spokesman Andrew Hastie has slammed the government for keeping the incident from the public.
“The Coalition condemns the actions of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) in which Royal Australian Navy divers on HMAS Toowoomba were injured in international waters last Tuesday,” Mr Hastie said in a statement.
“While the responsibility is solely on the Chinese PLA Navy, the Albanese Government also has some serious questions to answer.
“Reports that the Prime Minister knew about this incident and deliberately withheld information until after leaving for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit are, if true, outrageous and unacceptable.”
Mr Hastie said the Prime Minister “must explain” why he chose to wait after he left the country to disclose the information and whether it was raised directly with President Xi Jinping at APEC.
“What we continue to see from the Prime Minister and his Labor government is a lack of leadership and a lack of action,” Mr Hastie said.
“In a week in which the government has failed its most basic task – to keeping Australians safe – the Albanese government has again proved that it can’t be trusted on national security.
“We have always said that we will judge the Chinese Communist Party on their actions rather than their words, and this provocative behaviour contradicts the Government’s belief they are witnessing a stabilisation of the relationship with China. This incident is evidence to the contrary.
“The Prime Minister must immediately disclose whether he raised this matter with President Xi, or whether it was withheld for expedient political purposes. Any failure to do so would rightly raise questions around Anthony Albanese’s ability to lead our nation.”