Aussie overreacts to PLA ship encounter
Published: Nov 23, 2023 11:39 PM
Illustration: Xia QIng/ GT

Illustration: Xia QIng/ GT

On Monday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese accused the Chinese PLA navy of "dangerous, unsafe and unprofessional" conduct. Australia said that China's navy used sonar in an incident in "international waters" that resulted in Australian divers "suffering injuries." 

However, the incident took place very close to Chinese waters, and the Australian naval ship refused to communicate with the Chinese naval ship. 

It is reasonable to suspect that Australia is "overreacting" this time.

From the Chinese perspective, if an Australian naval ship gets close to Chinese waters, the Chinese naval ships absolutely have the justification to move up to see what exactly it is doing. The Australians had no right to be so close to Chinese waters. When the Chinese naval ship sent out message after message, demanding a response, the Australian naval should have responded.

This unpleasant episode took place during the overall improvement of China-Australia relations. Albanese made a very successful visit to China two weeks ago, which was warmly received and welcomed by the Chinese government and people. The only right thing for China and Australia to do is to get along with each other to improve relations and boost bilateral trade, rather than rise up in such unfortunate episodes one after another, trying to destroy and disrupt the steady development of relations between China and Australia.

Australia is mainly responsible for the downfall of China-Australia relations over the past several years. When Scott Morrison was the prime minister of Australia, he probably listened too much to the so-called competition for war fallacy between China and the US. And Australia would become very agitated if war were to break out between China and the US. It seems that Australia has only one option: To side completely with the US in a military operation against China.

This warship encounter incident is an unpleasant episode. The Australian side's accusation is false and irresponsible. The Australians should well anticipate that when they send any ship close to the Chinese coastline, the Chinese naval ships will come up to carry out a normal procedure including investigation, surveillance and warning. No one should pretend to be surprised if a naval ship uses sonar to try to detect the real intention of the other side, either for the surface ships or the underwater ones, including submarines. Therefore, I think we need to deal with the situation as it is rather than blow it out of proportion.

However, I think that with the improvement of China-Australia relations, I have proposed that China and Australia may consider restoring the exchanges of port visits by naval ships. In that case, the two military forces can really exchange visits and try to improve their understanding and eventually build trust in each other, rather than agitating for more agitation or more tense relations between the two military forces, which will definitely poison the steady development of relations between China and Australia. The megatrend in bilateral relations between China and Australia is transiting from mistrust to trust and from confrontation to cooperation. No one in Australia should try to fight against this megatrend.

When Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong says the safety and well-being of Australian defense personnel is "our utmost priority," I want to emphasize that staying out of Chinese waters will make Australian sailors much safer. When they come close to Chinese waters, the Chinese warships and planes will get close to find out what exactly their real strategic and technical intention is. And when they violate Chinese waters, they will surely be expelled. Anyone in Australia should anticipate this rather than pretend to be surprised. Any other major country would do the same, because every country wants to defend its own sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

I hope Australian leaders and their people will really appreciate that the improvement of relations between China and Australia will be great news for both countries. Let's promote this megatrend rather than being distracted by the unpleasant episodes of any kind.

The author is a chair professor at Soochow University and vice president of the Center for China and Globalization. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn