Topics: Chinese navy incident;

Wednesday, 22 November 2023


Lionel Chiou:  The first question is, is it acceptable that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese did not use his personal meeting with Xi Jinping to raise the behaviour of the Chinese PLA military that injured Australian Defence Force divers?


Simon Birmingham: The whole handling of this incident by the Albanese Government in Australia appears to be totally unacceptable. It seems as if they have failed to use the opportunities available to them to raise these issues at the highest levels, and they’ve really been lacking in transparency and openness about what has happened and what conversations have been had. The reality is that China has a repetitive occurrence and behaviour of engaging in dangerous ways with military activity throughout our region, be it in the South China Sea, across the Taiwan Strait or in this incident, we see it happening in Japanese territorial waters. Given the repeat offences by China in such dangerous ways, it really should be raised at the highest levels between governments and Prime Minister Albanese should have seized that opportunity with President Xi Jinping at the APEC summit.


Lionel Chiou: How would you describe this very incident in which the behaviour of the PLA you mentioned that it’s dangerous and but also is it a novel, isn’t it?


Simon Birmingham: This incident was certainly unprofessional and dangerous and appears by some analysts assessment to have been in potential breach of international laws. It certainly is in breach of the way in which professional navies expect to be able to operate and conduct themselves, and from all that has been released, the Australian Navy appears to have acted with nothing but professionalism and within the law. It’s deeply concerning that their warnings and their advice to the Chinese Navy was ignored, and the ignoring of that and the actions of the Chinese navy put the lives of Australian personnel in danger. And so Australians have every right to be concerned, to be outraged at the fact that China has created this dangerous circumstance for our personnel. But we should also see it in the bigger picture, which is the way in which China engages in such a dangerous way right across the Indo-Pacific region. The increasing number of such incidents do just risk miscalculation, misadventure, and from that possible escalation that could endanger so many more lives.


Lionel Chiou: And you mentioned that this is this kind of behaviour is not an isolated case. Right. And so do you think the Albanese Government has given the Australian public enough insight into what has been happening between the ADF and the Chinese military since June last year?


Simon Birmingham: It does trouble me that the Albanese Government has been insufficiently open and insufficiently vocal about concerns Australia should have in relation to the increased military activity by the Chinese military. Whether it is in relation to increased actions across the Taiwan Strait that risk potential escalation of conflict, or whether it is in the South China Sea, where China has taken an increasingly aggressive stance towards the Philippines and acted in ways that are deeply troubling, or whether it is a whole range of different incidents that have occurred with militaries, including Australia’s. They are all cause for concern. And whilst we welcome the stabilisation in diplomatic relations and hopefully trade and economic relations between Australia and China, it should not come at the expense of Australia speaking out, speaking openly, speaking plainly, in defence of our interests and of our expectations about how countries should engage to ensure the peace and stability of our region.


Lionel Chiou: Okay. Thank you. Thank you for your time. Senator Birmingham.