Conflicts - TensionsNortheast AsiaOceania

Australian PM: Chinese navy incident that injured diver was ‘dangerous’


Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said a Chinese warship acted dangerously during an incident with a Royal Australian Navy vessel that injured a military diver and damaged ties between the nations.

HMAS Toowoomba, a long-range frigate, was conducting a diving operation off Japan on November 14, 2023, to clear fishing nets from its propellers, Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said.

A People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) destroyer approached HMAS Toowoomba, despite being notified of the diving operation, and operated its hull-mounted sonar in a dangerous manner. The diver sustained minor injuries that were likely caused by the sonar, Marles said.

Albanese said the incident showed the need for “communication guardrails” between militaries. “This was dangerous, it was unsafe and unprofessional from the Chinese warship,” he told Sky News Australia.

“The consequences of these events are that they do damage to the relationship,” Albanese said. “And this certainly is an event that does do damage. And we’ve made that very clear to China.”

The incident came about a week after Albanese became the first Australian leader in seven years to visit China, where he agreed to restart annual talks with Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping. The two leaders also met days after the incident on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in San Francisco, California.

The People’s Republic of China’s defense ministry disputed Australia’s version of the incident, claiming that the PLAN destroyer Ningbo monitored and identified HMAS Toowoomba from a safe distance and did not conduct any activities that could affect the diving operation.

The ministry said Beijing had lodged a complaint with Canberra.

The Australian Defence Department said the HMAS Toowoomba had been conducting operations in support of United Nations sanctions enforcement and was in international waters inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone en route to a scheduled port visit when the incident occurred.

“The safety and wellbeing of our ADF [Australian Defence Force] personnel continues to be of our utmost priority,” the Defence Department said in a statement. “Australia expects all countries, including China, to operate their militaries in a professional and safe manner.”

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