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Momentum of improving ties should be cherished: China Daily editorial | Updated: 2023-11-22 19:40
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Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's Nov 4-7 China visit inspired hope that the two countries would move fast to repair strained ties. But mutual suspicions may have run too deep to allow that to happen smoothly.

Just a week after Albanese's trip, an unexpected close encounter between the two countries' navies left them exchanging the blame. Albanese told the media on Monday he was"very concerned" about the Nov 14 incident between Australian and Chinese vessels, where"one person suffered an injury as a result of the actions of China", which he called dangerous and reckless.

Claiming the incident has damaged bilateral ties, and his government has lodged a"strong objection", the Australian leader emphasized the need for"communication guardrails" between the two militaries.

What happened was obviously an outcome of the rapidly increasing military activities in the West Pacific and the resulting escalating tensions, which in turn are occurring amid the broader deepening strategic distrust in the background.

According to the Australian Defense Ministry, its frigate HMAS Toowoomba was conducting a diving operation in the"Japanese Exclusive Economic Zone" to clear fishing nets from its propellers. An approaching People's Liberation Army Navy destroyer ignored the vessel's notice of the ongoing diving operation and operated its sonar, causing personnel injuries. The Chinese Defense Ministry has flatly denied that version of events, saying that the Chinese destroyer Ningbo monitored and identified the Australian vessel from a"safe distance" and"did not carry out any activities that might affect the diving operations of the Australian side". It must be pointed out that China and Japan have not carried out maritime delimitation in the relevant waters, so the claim of Chinese military activity in"Japanese Exclusive Economic Zone" is not correct.

The Chinese military is strictly disciplined and always operates professionally in accordance with international law and international common practices. The Australian side should stop making trouble in front of China's doorstep and work with China to preserve the momentum of improving bilateral ties.

As has been the case in all the recent encounters between Chinese and foreign militaries in nearby areas, everyone seems to believe they were behaving in accordance with international law. Divergent readings of some critical clauses of international law may mean such beliefs are sincere. Even if that is the case, the active territorial and maritime disputes in the East and South China seas significantly complicate the matter. Unless the parties involved can communicate their intentions and purposes beforehand and explain corresponding actions in a clear and timely manner, misjudgments may greatly amplify the risk of unintended conflict.

As more extraterritorial militaries swarm around China, avoiding any mishap or misjudgment will prove critical to peace and stability.

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