SYDNEY, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said a Chinese warship acted in a dangerous and unprofessional manner during an incident with an Australian navy vessel that injured a military diver, his first comments on the matter which he said had damaged ties.
HMAS Toowoomba – a long-range frigate – was conducting a diving operation in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone on Nov. 14 to clear fishing nets from its propellers when the incident occurred, Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Saturday.
Albanese, who met briefly with Chinese president Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in San Francisco last week, has come under domestic political pressure over whether he raised the matter with the Chinese leader.
In an interview on Monday with Sky News Australia, Albanese said the incident caused injury to one person and shows the need for “communication guardrails” between militaries.
“This was dangerous, it was unsafe and unprofessional from the Chinese warship,” he said.
Albanese said the incident was raised through “all of the normal channels”, but didn’t disclose if it was discussed in his private meeting with Xi at APEC.
“The consequences of these events are that they do damage to the relationship. And this certainly is an event that does do damage. And we’ve made that very clear to China,” he added.
A People’s Liberation Army Navy destroyer closed towards HMAS Toowoomba, despite the Australian vessel notifying the Chinese warship of a diving operation, and operated its hull-mounted sonar in a manner that posed a safety risk, Marles previously said.
Medical assessments found minor injuries to divers likely caused by the destroyer’s sonar, the defence minister added.
Albanese visited China this month, the first Australian leader to do so in seven years, agreeing to restart an annual leaders dialogue.
The Chinese embassy in Australia did not respond to a request for comment.
Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Lincoln Feast.
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