Australia won't back down on criticism of Chinese air defence zone

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (right) speaks with an official during a pre- Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) foreign minister's meeting in Colombo on Nov 13, 2013. Australia on Thursday refused to back down from its critic
Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (right) speaks with an official during a pre- Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) foreign minister's meeting in Colombo on Nov 13, 2013. Australia on Thursday refused to back down from its criticism of China's newly declared air defence identification zone, denying it had overstepped the mark. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia on Thursday refused to back down from its criticism of China's newly declared air defence identification zone, denying it had overstepped the mark.

Canberra on Tuesday summoned Beijing's ambassador to voice opposition to the zone over the East China Sea, which includes Japan-administered islands at the heart of a tense dispute between the two neighbours.

It prompted Beijing to blast Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's actions as "irresponsible", demanding she immediately correct her "mistake" while warning that ties could be hurt.

But Ms Bishop remained defiant on Thursday, denying the United States, which has also refused to recognise the new zone, had pressured Australia into its position. "This is long-standing Australian policy to oppose any unilateral or coercive action by any country that could add to the tensions that currently exist in the East China Sea," she told reporters.

"We have a key stake, a key interest in ensuring that there is peace and stability in the East China Sea in our region.

"We are not the only country to have raised concerns. We would raise concerns if any other country had done something similarly."

China is Australia's biggest trading partner and newly elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott has pushed for deeper ties with the Asian giant.

But Washington remains Canberra's key ally, and last month Ms Bishop said the new government intended to keep Japan as its "best friend" in Asia, as it works on relations with China.

Ms Bishop said Thursday she did not believe Canberra's position would have ramifications for free trade talks with China.

"The Chinese government have responded, but our overall relationship continues," she said.

"China is our major trading partner, we have a very deep and long-standing engagement with China but it is appropriate that each side be able to raise concerns with each other and do it in a way that hopefully will receive appropriate consideration."

Mr Abbott in October said he hoped a long-negotiated free trade agreement with China could be concluded within a year.