November 28, 2013
China correspondent for Fairfax Media
The Chinese government has delivered an angry rebuke over “irresponsible remarks” made by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop regarding its newly declared air defence zone in the East China Sea, in the latest diplomatic headache for the Abbott government in Asia.
Ms Bishop summoned Chinese ambassador Ma Zhaoxu on Monday to express the government’s concern over the new zone, which covers airspace over a string of uninhabited islands – known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan – at the centre of a longstanding territorial dispute between the two regional powers.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop says Australia is opposed to any ”coercive or unilateral actions to change the status quo in the East China Sea”.
Echoing the sentiments of the Japanese and the United States, Ms Bishop said the timing and manner of China’s announcement was “unhelpful in light of current regional tensions, and will not contribute to regional stability”.
“Australia has made clear its opposition to any coercive or unilateral actions to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” she said on Tuesday.
But in a sternly worded statement on Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry warned Ms Bishop to ”correct” her characterisation of its new air defence zone or risk damaging bilateral ties.
“It is completely a mistake for Australia to make irresponsible remarks on China’s establishment of an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea, and the Chinese side will not accept it,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said. “China urges Australia to correct its mistake immediately to prevent damaging Sino-Australia relations.”
The fall-out threatens to sour the mood for Ms Bishop’s imminent visit to China – her first as foreign minister – and comes as the Abbott government pushes aggressively to seal a much-vaunted free trade deal with its largest trading partner within a year.
On Thursday morning, Ms Bishop stood by her public criticism of China, denying she overstepped the mark.
”This is a matter of long-standing Australian policy, we’ve raised it before and the response from China was to be expected,” she told Sky News.
”Australia has a key stake in the region and we would oppose action by any side that we believe could add to the tensions or add to the risk of a miscalculation in disputed territorial zones in the region.”
Ms Bishop said she did not believe the comments would affect Australia’s hopes of securing a free trade agreement with China next year.
Mr Abbott’s public declaration last month that Japan was Australia’s “best friend” in Asia had already raised eyebrows in Beijing.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the government would not retreat from its stance despite the pressure from Beijing and said it was expected to be ”a topic of discussion in Ms Bishop’s upcoming visit”.
“The Australian government remains concerned that China’s sudden announcement of an air-defence identification zone over the East China Sea at this time could have potentially destabilising consequences for the region,” the spokesman said on Wednesday.
“Australia has critical interests at stake in ensuring the continued peace and stability of our region. It was natural that the Australian government should signal its concerns about the timing and manner of China’s announcement and to seek clarification.”
China established its new “air defence identification zone” on Saturday, requiring aircraft entering the zone to notify authorities in advance and maintain radio contact – or risk military intervention.
The move has been met with strong protests by Japan and the US. Both have ignored China’s claims to the airspace with Washington flying two unarmed warplanes through the zone in a planned training mission on Tuesday, and the Japanese government instructing its two largest airlines to ignore Beijing’s requests for flight plans and other information.
Wang Xiangsui, a retired colonel of the People’s Liberation Army, said Australia had offended China by taking sides with Japan.
“Australia says it is trying to become China’s strategic partner, but it doesn’t even consider respecting China’s security interests.”
The Sydney Morning Herald