(FILE) The Royal Australian Navy's Adelaide-class guided missile frigate HMAS Melbourne (FFG 05) arrives at a port for the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in Qingdao, Shandong, China, 21 April 2019. EFE/EPA/WU HONG

Australian PM accuses Chinese navy of ‘dangerous’ conduct against Aussie marines

Sydney, Australia, Nov 20 (EFE).- Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Monday accused the Chinese navy of engaging in “dangerous and unprofessional” conduct against Aussie military divers during a maritime incident in international waters near Japan.

An Australian frigate was conducting a diving operation on Nov 14, when a Chinese destroyer employed sonar pulses at a closer distance, allegedly causing injuries to Aussie divers who were trying to clear fishing nets from the vessel’s propellers, Australian military said Saturday.

“This was dangerous. It was unsafe, and unprofessional from the Chinese forces,” Albanese said in an interview with Sky News. “In this case, one person suffered an injury as a result of the actions of China.”

He emphasized the need to prevent such “reckless” events that could “damage” the relations between the two countries.

“We disagree with the action of China; we’ve made it clear that we disagree with what occurred, that we have the strongest possible objection and that this sort of event should not occur,” the prime minister underlined.

He said the issue was raised “very clearly through all of the normal channels” with China, but refused to confirm whether he directly discussed it with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in San Francisco last week.

According to the Australian defense ministry, the HMAS Toowoomba, a long-range frigate, was conducting the diving operation in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone when the Chinese vessel approached at a closer range.

Despite a warning from the Aussie vessel about the ongoing diving operation, the Chinese destroyer operated its hull-mounted sonar in a manner that posed “a risk to the safety of the Australian divers who were forced to exit the water,” the ministry said.

Subsequent medical assessments revealed that the divers sustained “minor injuries likely due to being subjected to the sonar pulses from the Chinese destroyer,” it said.

The Chinese military has long been accused by several countries of engaging in unsafe and aggressive practices in the Pacific region, particularly in the South and East China seas, where it maintains territorial disputes with regional countries.

The recent maritime incident occurred a week after Albanese’s visit to China in an effort to stabilize relations between Canberra and Beijing, which have been tense since 2017, mainly due to restrictive measures affecting bilateral trade. EFEaus-pav/bks/mcd