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  • Writer's pictureFlow Australia

China expert downplays diplomatic 'blip' over Taiwan

An expert in Chinese foreign policy has played down a public rebuke over Australia's response to presidential elections in Taiwan.

China's warning shot to Australia following the Taiwan election has been described as a "blip" rather than a flashpoint in the diplomatic relationship.

The Asian power's denial of involvement in a clash at sea that injured several Australian divers has also been played down.

China's ambassador to Australia raised a series of issues and grievances during a two-hour media briefing.

Xiao Qian rebuked the prime minister for congratulating Taiwan's pro-democracy party after it won the presidential election, warning China could lodge a formal complaint.

He also denied a Chinese warship subjected Australian naval divers to sonar pulses during an incident in mid-November, suggesting Japan could be to blame.

In response, a spokesman for the Embassy of Japan in Australia pointed to the close ties between Tokyo and Canberra.

"Japan and Australia as the core of a partnership of like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region, unambiguously abide by the rule of law and have been promoting security cooperation across a wide range of areas under the Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation," he said.

Anthony Albanese was quick to react, saying Australia stood by its response to the "unsafe and unprofessional" incident.

China expected "something more" from its relationship with Australia, Mr Xiao said.

Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said the suggestion Japan was to blame was "utterly absurd".

"It is ridiculous in the extreme to suggest that this was Japan," he told Sky News.

Senator Paterson said due to Beijing's inability to admit they deliberately engaged in conduct that harmed Australian Navy divers, he hoped the government would rule out joint military exercises with China.

Australian National University research fellow Ben Herscovitch was not surprised by the ambassador's remarks.

It was in China's interests to quash positive comments about Taiwan and Australia had "safety in numbers" given a range of nations issued similar statements, Dr Herscovitch said.

"In the end, this is probably more likely to be a blip in the bilateral relationship rather than a serious point of contention," he said.

In relation to the navy sonar pulse, Dr Herscovitch said the ambassador's comments gave China "plausible deniability" that could be used to reduce tensions.

"It would wriggle noses in Tokyo but that message is aimed at trying to reduce the temperature of the Australia-China relationship," he said.

"Beijing got the message the Albanese government and the public were really frustrated at the incident and the conduct of the vessel."

A lack of public information about classified incidents also played into China's hands because it was hard for officials to issue detailed rebukes.

"When you have limited information to go on, it's relatively easy to deceive and easier to shape the narrative," Dr Herscovitch said.

In his Canberra address, Mr Xiao said China expected "something more" from its relationship with Australia and wanted to pursue a "proactive, pragmatic and objective" approach.


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