China’s “alarming” movements do not meet its rhetoric about promoting peace and prosperity in the region, Australia’s defence minister said on Friday after a Chinese navy ship was tracked sailing through the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Defense Minister Peter Dutton cited China’s militarization of the South China Sea, the recent aggression against Taiwan and the introduction of national security law in Hong Kong as models of China’s actions at odds with his rhetoric.
“We are all familiar with the frequent assertions by the Chinese authority that it is bound to peace, cooperation and development,” Dutton stated in a speech in Canberra.
“And yet we are witnessing a significant disconnect between words and actions. We have watched closely as the Chinese government has engaged in increasingly alarming activities.”
The comments are likely to enrage Beijing and come as Australia confirmed that it had monitored a Chinese intelligence ship sailing within Australia’s exclusive economic zone, but not in Australian territorial waters, in August.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the ship, the second of its kind to be monitored off the Australian coast in as many months, was traveling lawfully.
“But don’t think for a second that we weren’t watching them, as they were trying to watch us,” Morrison told reporters in Adelaide.
“What it shows is that now no one can be complacent about the situation in the Indo-Pacific.”
Relations between Australia and its largest export market hit a low in 2020 when Canberra backed a United Nations investigation into the roots of COVID-19, which was first reported in China.
China countered by cutting off ministerial connections and imposing heavy tariffs on Australian exports of wine, barley, beef, charcoal and seafood, effectively nullifying a 2015 free trade agreement. Australia and its ally the United States called the move “economic coercion.
In September, a new security pact within Australia, the United States and Britain, entitled AUKUS, was broadly seen as an effort to shore up territorial military muscle in the face of China’s expanding presence. China declared AUKUS a threat to global peace.