Australia rejects China comments on sonar incident

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia on Thursday rejected comments by China’s ambassador seeking to deflect blame from China’s navy for the injury of Australian military divers in an incident near Japan in November.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was “not swayed” by Chinese ambassador Xiao Qian’s comment a day earlier that a Chinese navy ship didn’t use its sonar while Australian divers were in the water, and a Japanese boat could have been the source.

Albanese said in November a Chinese warship acted in a dangerous manner by using its sonar during an incident with an Australian navy vessel in Japan’s waters that injured military divers who were clearing fishing nets from its propellers, and the incident had damaged ties.

China has previously rejected Australia’s description of the incident, and at an annual press briefing on Wednesday, Xiao said China “didn’t initiate sonar”, adding there was a Japanese navy boat nearby. “Whether there was sonar from the other party, we don’t know,” he told reporters.

Albanese said on Thursday, “I think it is very clear what occurred.”

“I stand by the comments I made at the time, that it was wrong, that it shouldn’t have occurred,” he said in a media briefing.

Australia has said medical assessments found minor injuries to the divers involved were likely caused by the Chinese destroyer’s sonar.

Japan’s embassy in Australia said it didn’t know what Xiao said.

“Generally speaking, however, Japan and Australia as the core of a partnership of like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region, unambiguously abide by the rule of law and have been promoting security cooperation across a wide range of areas,” an embassy spokesman said in a statement.

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(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Sonali Paul)

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