China set to ‘deploy largest amphibious assault ship’ into sea
Senator Eric Abetz was speaking at a time of spiking tensions between Canberra and Beijing, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week unveiling plans to upgrade four northern military bases and expand war games with the United States at a cost of more than £400million (A$747). In an apparent retaliation, China suspended all activity related to a key economic agreement between the two countries, with China’s foreign ministry Wang Wenbin claiming Australia born “full responsibility”.
Nevertheless, Mr Abetz, who is the chairman of the Australian Senate’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, told Express.co.uk his country would not be intimidated.
He said: “Rampant foreign interference, economic coercion and the destabilisation of the Indo-Pacific are not the workings of Canberra.
“We must never forget that the trade tensions and the diplomatic freeze Australia finds itself in are the faults of one country and one country only.”
A Type 052C guided missile destroyer Xi’an of the Chinese Navy Surface Force, pictured in 2019
Senator Eric Abetz said Australia was facing “unprecedented aggression”
Referring to China’s relentless military expansion in the region, Mr Abetz added: “Xi Jinping and the CCP must be judged on their actions and not their words.
“In 2015, Xi said to President Obama that China would not militarise the South China Sea, only to promptly increase efforts to militarise the South China Sea.”
He also highlighted China’s increasingly belligerent attitude towards Taiwan, the autonomous region which Beijing nevertheless regards as part of its territory.
Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister
Mr Abetz said: “Australia is accused of harbouring a ‘cold war mentality’, and the CCP places the onus on Australia to repair the relationship.
“Yet military flyovers across Taiwan are at record levels, and trade sanctions are used to demonstrate to other reliant trading nations that the consequences are severe if you don’t toe Beijing’s line.
“In the face of such unprecedented military aggression, revanchist ambition and foreign interference spearheaded by Xi, nations must protect their interests and sovereignty, and Australia is doing just that.”
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Wang Wenbin criticised Australia this week
Xi Jinping, China’s President
Speaking last Wednesday, Mr Morrison said an airstrip in the Northern Territory will be lengthened to support larger aircraft, firing ranges overhauled and new training facilities set up for defence personnel and US marines.
He did not mention China by name – but said: “Our objective is a free and open Indo-Pacific, to ensure a peaceful region, one that, at the same time, Australia is in a position to always protect its interests.”
Michael Goldman, Charge d’Affaires at the US embassy in Canberra, said: “The United States and Australia have been deeply engaged in defence cooperation for over half a century.
South China Sea mapped
“We will continue to look for additional ways to partner with Australia, as our ally, to advance the security and prosperity of Americans, Australians, and the peoples of the Indo-Pacific region.”
Yesterday, China “indefinitely” suspended all activity under a China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue, its state economic planner.
In a short statement explaining the decision, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said: “Recently, some Australian Commonwealth Government officials launched a series of measures to disrupt the normal exchanges and cooperation between China and Australia out of Cold War mindset and ideological discrimination.”
The commission did not say in the statement what specific measures prompted the action.
China’s military strength in numbers
Wang told a daily press conference the suspension was a “necessary and legitimate” response to Australia “abusing” the concept of national security to pressure cooperation with China.
He added: “Australia must bear full responsibility.”
Relations between Australia and China were dealt a further blow last year after Canberra called last year for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, prompting trade reprisals from Beijing.
Speaking last month, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton claimed a conflict between China and Taiwan “should not be discounted”.