Australia raises military run ins with Chinese minister

Dominic Giannini |

Richard Marles has given a speech calling on China to take a greater role in promoting peace.
Richard Marles has given a speech calling on China to take a greater role in promoting peace.

Defence Minister Richard Marles has raised concerns about dangerous military incidents with his Chinese counterpart after using a major speech to call on Beijing to take a greater role in promoting peace.

Mr Marles spoke to Dong Jun about at least two unsafe incidents by the Chinese military against Australian defence personnel on the sidelines of a defence summit in Singapore on Saturday.

They included a Chinese jet forcing an Australian navy helicopter to take evasive action after dropping flares directly in front of it and a Chinese ship using sonar pulses against naval divers.

“Obviously, we have seen some unsafe incidents … we’ve spoken about them and I obviously raised them with Minister Dong,” Mr Marles told Sky News on Sunday.

The defence minister described the conversation as “frank”, adding: “We covered a lot of territory but it was a good meeting as well, it went longer than was anticipated”.

The opposition has criticised government ministers for not picking up the phone to their counterparts sooner.

But Mr Marles clapped back, saying concerns were raised through diplomatic channels and pointing out the previous coalition government couldn’t get any meetings with the Chinese.

The relationship between Beijing and Canberra that deteriorated under the Liberals meant not only could concerns not be raised, but areas of co-operation like trade ceased as well, he said. 

“It’s a complex relationship. We want to be sensible, professional, respectful about the way in which we engage with China,” he said.

“We definitely don’t want to gratuitously antagonise China, that’s not what we’re trying to do, but at the same time, it’s important that we speak to our national interests, there is never any question about that.”

Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles
Richard Marles’ speech in Singapore urged China to help pressure Russia to end its war on Ukraine. (AP PHOTO)

Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson chastised Mr Marles for saying the Liberals didn’t have a respectful relationship with China.

“He should specify exactly what he means by that,” he said.

“Was it calling out China’s foreign interference in our democracy? Was it calling out Chinese malign conduct in the South China Sea? Was it calling out horrific human rights abuses in China?”

Any censorship of public remarks was “an act of weakness”, Senator Paterson said.

The comments came after Mr Marles used a major speech at the summit to call on China to take a more forthright role in pressuring Russia to end its attack on Ukraine. 

Any view from Beijing that helped defeat Russia meant the West would then have “a freer hand” to defeat China was wrong, Mr Marles said, as he pointed to the need for global peace.

The war in Ukraine remained relevant to Australia as “people are looking at conflicts all over the world to draw conclusions from how they should behave in their own spheres”, Mr Marles reiterated on Sunday.