CANBERRA: China’s “alarming” actions are not in line with its rhetoric to promote peace and prosperity in the region, the Australian Secretary of Defense said on Friday (November 26) after a Chinese naval ship was tracked sailing through the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Defense Secretary Peter Dutton cited China’s militarization of the South China Sea, recent aggression against Taiwan and the introduction of a national security law in Hong Kong as examples of China’s actions running counter to its rhetoric.
“We are all familiar with the common claims of the Chinese government that it is committed to peace, cooperation and development,” Dutton said in a speech in Canberra.
“And yet we are witnessing a significant link between words and deeds. We have seen very carefully when the Chinese government has engaged in increasingly alarming activities.”
The Chinese embassy in Canberra said Dutton had distorted China’s foreign policy, misled the Australian people and “incited conflicts and divisions between peoples and nations”.
“It is inconceivable that the relationship between China and Australia will gain momentum … if the Australian government bases its national strategy on such a visionless analysis and outdated mentality,” it said in a statement.
Relations between Australia and its largest export market reached a bottom in 2020 when Canberra supported a UN inquiry into the origin of covid-19, which was first recorded in China.
China responded by interrupting ministerial contacts and imposing substantial tariffs on Australian exports of wine, barley, beef, coal and shellfish, which effectively repealed a 2015 free trade agreement, Australia and its allied US branded the move as “economic coercion”.
The latest exchange of barbs came when Australia confirmed that it had been monitoring a Chinese intelligence vessel sailing in August within Australia’s exclusive economic zone but not in Australian territorial waters.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the ship – the second of its kind to be monitored off the Australian coast in as many months – was traveling legally.
“But do not think for a second that we did not keep an eye on them, because they were trying to keep an eye on us,” Morrison told reporters in Adelaide.
“What it shows is that no one can now be complacent about the situation in the Indo-Pacific.”
In September, a new security pact between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, called AUKUS, was widely seen as an attempt to support regional military muscle in the face of China’s growing presence. China called AUKUS a danger to world peace.