China slams Peter Dutton act: 'Fear mongering'

·Associate News Editor
·2-min read

China kept it brief when responding to Peter Dutton's impromptu press conference warning of an "act of aggression" from the Chinese navy, accusing the defence minister of a "fear mongering" act.

Mr Dutton told reporters on Friday a Chinese warship was "hugging" the West Australian coast, collecting intelligence in the process.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian was pressed on Mr Dutton's address on Friday evening, taking aim at the Cabinet minister – an increasingly common occurrence at the department's daily press briefings.

"The Australian politician concerned should view the situation with objectivity and calm, instead of making sensational comments aimed at fear-mongering," he said.

dutton zhao
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian has hit back at Peter Dutton. Source: AAP/ FMPRC

Mr Zhao's remarks echoed remarks hours earlier in Australia, where Mr Dutton was accused of politicising the ship's passing.

Journalist Paul Bongiorno said the Coalition's relentless warnings regarding China's threat is "getting very silly".

Guardian reporter Josh Butler said Mr Dutton's announcement indicated "we're at the "break glass in case of emergency" stage of the election".

Even a statement from his own department appeared to contradict Mr Dutton's concerns, saying Australia "respects the right of all states to exercise freedom of navigation in international waters".

Mr Dutton denied he was hyping up the threat to lure voters, insisting similar announcements had been made in the past year.

Prime minister wades in on Dutton announcement

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday there had been no suggestion from his cabinet the ship's navigation had breached international laws of the sea.

He said it was however an indication of the foreign interference Australia is facing from China.

"This is why I did AUKUS. This is why I with the other leaders in India, Japan and the United States drove the Quad arrangement back to where it needed to be

In March, Australia and China engaged in an ugly back-and-forth regarding an encounter between a Chinese warship and an Australian aircraft. Both nations accused the other of being the aggressor.

Beijing itself has been vocal on foreign vessels, repeatedly condemning naval missions in the highly-disputed South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait – a region Mr Dutton has previously warned could be the focus of potential military conflict involving Australia.

Just 48 hours before Mr Dutton's announcement, China's Ministry of Defence accused the US of "provocative acts to send wrong signals to Taiwan independence separatist forces" after its navy travelled through the Taiwan Strait.

Former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd on Thursday branded Mr Dutton an "idiot" for his ongoing China commentary.

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