China, Australia should be ‘cautious of destructive forces’ as ties improve

BEIJING: Senior Chinese official Liu Jianchao delivered an overall positive speech on China-Australia ties at a university in Sydney local time on Tuesday, but also urged that “great prudence” is needed for Australian vessels following a recent spat, which reflects China’s goodwill to revive relations while maintaining a firm stance on core interests, analysts said on Wednesday.

Liu, head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, spoke to officials, academics, businesspeople and media representatives at the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney on Tuesday.

Liu urged “prudence” in response to a question on an incident earlier in November, where Australia media claimed has caused minor injuries to Australian divers. However, such claims are completely inconsistent with the facts, as the Chinese vessel kept a safe distance from the Australian vessel, and did not conduct any activity that could affect the Australian side’s diving operations, according to Wu Qian, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense on November 20.

The incident arose from Australia’s behaviour in the region that gave “Chinese people a message that Australian naval vessels are there to contain China.” “What would happen if a Chinese naval ship came to your waters or waters near Australia? Naturally you send your ships to monitor and identify,” Liu said, according to Australian media reports.

Chen Hong, director of the Australian Studies Center of East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that such close-in operations will prompt China to take self-defense actions such as monitoring and warning, and that scenario could increase the risk of frictions and incidents that neither side wants to see.

An occasional incident teaches a lesson, but “it should not be hyped continuously and become a barrier to improve bilateral relations,” Chen said.

When China and Australia strive to stabilize and reinvigorate their relations, there are people inside Australia and external forces that do not want the trend to continue, Chen noted, adding that both Australia and China should cherish the hard-won momentum and be cautious of destructive forces.

Liu, in his speech, acknowledged that the China-Australia relationship has been at the forefront of China’s relations with developed countries for a long time, but it has also experienced setbacks. Since last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese have met twice, providing guidance for the development of China-Australia relations.

Liu stressed China and Australia should enhance mutual trust, adhere to the positioning of bilateral relations as a comprehensive strategic partnership, and anchor the right direction of China-Australia relations.

The two sides should fully tap the potential of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and strive for common development, overcome differences in political systems, historical and cultural backgrounds and national conditions, expand consensus, properly handle divergences, and promote the steady and long-term development of China-Australia relations, Liu said.

Many differences are negotiable between China and Australia, but the sensitive topic of sovereignty and territorial integrity is not among them, Chen stressed.

Chen was among more than 700 people who attended the Tuesday event on site or via video link. The overall atmosphere was dynamic and amicable despite a few questions mainly raised by media with a reputation of being unfriendly to China, according to Chen.

Another question asked Liu about the prospects of China-Australia defense cooperation and military ties.

Such a question from Australia reflects the high expectations Australian public hold for bilateral relations, Chen said, as military cooperation marks a high level of mutual trust between two countries.

Liu on Tuesday also emphasized to deepen exchanges and strengthen communication at all levels and in various fields between the two governments, political parties, think tanks, youth and localities.

The senior official on Wednesday met with Peter Dutton, leader of the Opposition, and David Littleproud, leader of Australia’s National Party. Liu emphasized the role of inter-party exchanges and friendship in consolidating the relationship between the two countries.

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