Australia seeks defence chiefs dialogue with China to reduce military incidents

Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Friday that his country wants to restart annual dialogue with China's chief of defence to reduce misunderstandings between the militaries, with the matter raised with China's Premier Li Qiang this week.

Albanese said on Monday after meeting Li in Canberra that the two countries would take steps to improve military communication to avoid incidents, without giving detail.

Marles said in a radio interview on Friday that Australia wants to resume annual meetings between the two nations' chiefs of defence and defence department secretaries. Although some defence dialogue has restarted after years of frozen ties, it wasn't at the level it was 10 years ago, when the defence chiefs regularly met, he said.

"It doesn't resolve the fundamental issues that we might have between us, but what it does do is deepen the understanding that we have between us about what our behaviours are in certain circumstances," he said in an ABC radio interview, adding this could "avoid unnecessary escalations".

In an incident last month, a Chinese air force jet dropped flares near an Australian defence helicopter in international airspace over the Yellow Sea, which Australia called a dangerous encounter. China said it was a warning not to approach China's airspace.

In November, Australia said a Chinese naval vessel injured some of its divers in Japanese waters using sonar.

Liu Jianchao, head of the international department of the Chinese Communist Party, said during a visit to Australia in November the Australian navy's movements in the South China Sea and East China Sea appeared to be an effort to contain China, which Australia rejected.

Two-thirds of Australian trade passes through the South China Sea, and Australia has joined exercises with the Philippines, U.S. and Japan in the region.

Marles said an annual meeting between defence chiefs would also allow communication when issues arise, and flow down to military staff so they know what to expect from counterpart behaviour.

Australia wanted faster progress on the matter, he added.

"The meeting that we had with Premier Li earlier in the week has been really important in advancing that," he said.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)