Australia has again called for an end to China’s military drills near Taiwan, and a “return to calm”, as China has demanded that Australia stop interfering in its affairs.
China has been conducting live-fire drills near Taiwan in the wake of a visit from the US house speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Australia does not recognise Taiwan as a country under the One China policy, but maintains unofficial ties. The US recognises the One China policy without agreeing with it.
Beijing, meanwhile, expects to one day control the island.
Defence minister, Richard Marles, said on Tuesday that China was demonstrating its force, its capability, and its military build up in the region.
“What we need [to] see now is a return to calm,” he said.
“And I think that’s what everyone obviously in the region wants. To be honest … that’s what everyone in the world wants.”
China’s military build up is a key factor shaping Australia’s defence strategy, Marles said, warning that Australia’s defence forces face a potential capability gap once the existing Collins-class submarine fleet retires, and before the new nuclear-powered one is ready.
“Making sure that we have the most potent defence force that we can have is absolutely a top priority for the government,” he told ABC radio. He added that there was a sense of urgency to the submarine deal made with the US and the UK under the Aukus agreement.
He said he had an open mind about how to plug the capability gap. There have been a range of suggestions that Australia could build or buy interim submarines while waiting for the Aukus fleet to be ready.
Marles said Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which triggered China’s recent aggression, was a matter for the US and Taiwan, and declined to comment further on comments from opposition leader, Peter Dutton, who backed the visit.
Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said Pelosi’s visit “seriously undermined China’s sovereignty” and that China’s response was “justified, reasonable and lawful”.
He also lashed out at comments made last Friday, after foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, met with US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and Japan’s foreign minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi.
In a joint statement, the three countries urged the People’s Republic of China to “immediately cease the military exercises”.
“They condemned the PRC’s launch of ballistic missiles, five of which the Japanese government reported landed in its exclusive economic zones, raising tension and destabilising the region,” the statement said.
Wang said that statement “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs”.
“The Australian side, in disregard of facts, has wantonly criticised China’s legitimate, justified and lawful measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
Australia should “respect China’s core interests and major concerns”, he said, and “avoid creating new obstacles for China-Australia ties”.
Meanwhile, Pacific minister, Pat Conroy, has been in Solomon Islands discussing its security deal with China.
Conroy said he had a “very warm and friendly” meeting with the prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, and said Sogavare had repeated an assurance that Australia is the “security partner of choice”.
While Sogavare has said he will not allow Chinese military bases on Solomon Islands, the deal sparked international concern over any increased Chinese influence in the region.
“We discussed our security partnership with the Solomon Islands … we discussed our ongoing support for their maritime division, and again I welcome the assurance from the prime minister that there will be no foreign bases in Solomon Islands or persistent military presence,” Conroy said.
“So, Australia remains the security partner of choice for the Solomon Islands.”