China has taken a not so subtle swipe at Australia over a new military deal struck with Japan.
The Morrison government has declared it stands ready to rebuild respectful and mutually beneficial ties with China. But the fractured relationship is set to be tested again after Australia signed a defence treaty with China’s strategic rival Japan.
The Reciprocal Access Agreement will see Japan and Australia use each other's military bases and conduct joint exercises in the East and South China Seas.
Unsurprisingly, China is not pleased with the inking of the deal, which has been six years in the making.
The Communist Party’s mouthpiece The Global Times sought to characterise it as a dangerous affront to the rising superpower.
“It's fair to say Japan and Australia set a bad example by interpreting their biggest trading partner, China, as a ‘security threat’, acting at the behest of the US,” the editorial said.
The Times complained the agreement was targeted at China and “provides a new lever for the US to divide Asia”.
“The agreement further accelerates the confrontational atmosphere in the Asia-Pacific region,” it said.
“This is not only unfair, but also very dangerous. China is unlikely to remain indifferent to US moves aimed at inciting countries to gang up against China in the long run,” it added.
The Global Times, which does not shy away from making pointed threats towards Australia and other nations, claimed that those nations in opposing military pacts will “pay a corresponding price” if China’s interests are infringed upon.
“Countries like Japan and Australia have been used as US tools. The strategic risk for a tool to be damaged is certainly higher than that of a user,” it said.
Treaty ‘shouldn’t cause concern’ for China, PM says
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says China should not fear the signing of the landmark treaty.
"This is a significant evolution of this relationship, but there is no reason for that to cause any concern elsewhere in the region," he said.
"I think it adds to the stability of the region, which is a good thing."
The agreement still needs to be ratified by parliament. Once finalised, it would be the first pact by Japan to allow a foreign military presence on its soil after a similar 1960 accord with the United States.
Mr Morrison and Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga signed the pact in Tokyo.
Mr Suga said Japan and Australia were "special strategic partners" committed to freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, working together to achieve peace and stability in the region.
In a joint statement, the two leaders expressed serious concerns about the situation in the South and East China Seas and strong opposition to militarising disputed islands, without identifying Beijing.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham also tried to dispel the notion that China would be angered by the military treaty.
The minister and his cabinet colleagues have been ignored by their Chinese counterparts for months as diplomatic relations continue to deteriorate.
He said Australia had reached out at every possible level to make contact with Chinese authorities.
"It is fanciful to suggest that we haven't sought and tried pretty much every possible or conceivable avenue in terms of expressing that willingness," Senator Birmingham told ABC radio Wednesday.
Senator Birmingham said Australia's door remained open but China could not be forced to come to the table.
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