ISTANBUL / ANKARA (AA) – Chinese and Australian defense officials have resumed talks for the first time since 2019 despite Beijing’s strong reaction to the recent AUKUS deal.
It was the eighth defense coordination dialogue between Beijing and Canberra, the Chinese Defense Ministry said in a statement.
“The two sides exchanged frank and in-depth views on international and regional security issues of common concern, and held consultations on promoting practical exchanges and cooperation between the two militaries,” said the Chinese side.
This is first formal meeting of the two countries defense officials in more than three years, as relations between Beijing and Canberra had remained tense due to Australia’s demand for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
The Chinese ministry added that the dialogue “further enhanced mutual understanding, and is conducive to the healthy and stable development of bilateral military relations.”
Australian Defense officials said the meeting was held in a “professional atmosphere.”
“The dialogue was conducted in a professional atmosphere, with both sides exchanging views on regional security issues,” 9 News broadcaster reported, citing a Defense Department statement.
Australia Defense Minister Richard Marles and his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe had met on the sidelines of the Shangrila Dialogue security summit in Singapore in June 2022 and later met on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers summit in Cambodia last November.
However, relations between the two countries apparently saw improvement after President Xi Jinping and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s high-level meeting in Indonesia last November, followed by the respective foreign ministers in Beijing.
Last month, Australia’s Trade Minister Don Farrell and China’s Commerce Minister Wang Wentao also held a video conference meeting to discuss trade issues between the two countries.
Earlier on Sunday, Farrell said he hoped Albanese will visit Beijing this year.
“We want a stable relationship with China, we want a mature relationship with China, of course, at the same time, we want to make sure everything we do is in our national interest and dealing with the issues of our national security,” he told Sky News Australia.
A ‘first’ in history
However, on March 15, China strongly reacted to the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal, expressing grave concerns.
“The AUKUS nuclear submarine cooperation marks the first time in history for nuclear weapon states to transfer naval nuclear propulsion reactors and large amounts of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium to a non-nuclear weapon state,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters during his regular briefing.
Recently, Australia announced a deal to buy at least three conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines under a trilateral security partnership with the US and UK, and the nations will work in tandem to develop a new “cutting edge” submarine.
There is no guarantee that Australia will not divert nuclear materials to build nuclear weapons, Wang said.
“Therefore, such cooperation poses serious nuclear proliferation risks, and is in contravention of the object and purpose of the NPT and deals a blow to the international non-proliferation regime,” Wang added.
The sale of the three Virginia-class submarines from the US will be subject to congressional approval.