Canberra accuses Beijing of threatening the safety of its sailors operating in international waters
Australia’s military has accused Beijing of “unsafe and unprofessional conduct” following an incident off Japan’s coast, claiming a Chinese warship emitted dangerous sonar waves near Australian divers despite repeated warnings.
In a statement on Saturday, Canberra’s Defense Minister Richard Marles said his government had voiced “serious concerns” to China over the encounter in Japan’s exclusive economic zone earlier this week, which involved an Australian frigate and a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA-N) destroyer.
“While diving operations were underway, a PLA-N destroyer operating in the vicinity closed towards HMAS Toowoomba,” Marles said, referring to the frigate by name. “Despite acknowledging Toowoomba’s communications, the Chinese vessel approached at a closer range. Soon after, it was detected operating 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 defense chief went on to say that an unspecified number of divers had “sustained minor injuries,” adding they were likely caused after “being subjected to the sonar pulses from the Chinese destroyer.”
Australia’s navy had previously said the ship was taking part in ‘Operation Argos,’ a mission to enforce international sanctions against North Korea.
Beijing has yet to address the allegations, but has previously dismissed similar charges of unsafe conduct by foreign militaries.
Last year, Canberra accused Chinese forces of directing a powerful laser at one of its spy panes operating north of Australia, deeming it a “serious safety incident.” However, China’s Foreign Ministry later insisted the Chinese vessel was obeying international law, and rejected Australia’s claims as “not true.”
Following another incident in early 2023, US officials said a Chinese military jet had buzzed an American aircraft from an “unsafe” distance while flying over the South China Sea, but Beijing dismissed the charge as “pure slander and hype.” Instead, China’s Defense Ministry said it was the US plane that had carried out “dangerous maneuvers.”
“The US side intentionally misled the public, called black white, blamed [this] on China while [the US] itself is to be blamed and attempted to confuse international opinion,” Defense Ministry spokesman Tian Julin said.