A visiting Chinese official on Tuesday warned Australia to act with “great prudence” in deploying warships in the South China Sea after a recent confrontation between the two navies.
Liu Jianchao, the Chinese Communist Party’s international minister, gave the warning while speaking at a Sydney university during a trip that paves the way for President Xi Jinping’s Australian visit, expected to take place next year.
Bilateral relations had been improving recently, but took a downturn when Australia accused the Chinese destroyer CNS Ningbo of injuring Australian navy divers with sonar pulses in Japanese waters on Nov. 14. Australia said China disregarded a safety warning to keep away from the Australian frigate HMAS Toowoomba.
Liu reiterated China’s position that the encounter happened outside Japanese territorial waters and that the Chinese warship caused no harm.
“We do urge the Australian government and also the military to act with great prudence in this area,” Liu said at the University of Technology Sydney.
“Such a small incident could really escalate if it’s not properly managed,” he added.
The Toowoomba went on to further antagonize Beijing by passing southward from Japan through the contested Taiwan Strait last week.
Liu said Australia was making a statement through the maneuver that it was containing China.
The U.S., Canadian and Australian militaries have complained multiple times about what they say have been dangerous actions by the Chinese navy and air force in the western Pacific. Analysts fear a collision or other accident could spark an international incident and escalate into conflict.
Liu's visits comes after Anthony Albanese recently became Australia's first prime minister to visit China in seven years.