China cautions Australia over defence co-operation with Japan

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) and his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop speaking at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) and his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop speaking at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing. PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China called on Australia on Wednesday (Feb 17) to take into account the feelings of Asian countries as Canberra contemplates buying a fleet of submarines from Japan.

In some of his strongest remarks on the possible deal, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters Australia should consider the context of Japan's role in the Second World War in developing its military relationship with Tokyo.

Wang made the remarks to journalists during a joint briefing with visiting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

"We hope that in military co-operation with Japan, Australia will take into full account this historical context and take into consideration also the feelings of Asian countries because of that history," Wang said. "We hope that Australia will take concrete actions to support the peaceful development of Japan and Japan's efforts to uphold its pacifist constitution and not the opposite."

Australia this year will pick the design for a new fleet of submarines in a deal worth as much as A$40 billion (S$40 billion).

Japan, which is offering a variant of its 4,000 ton Soryu submarine, is competing against rival bids from Germany and France for the contract.

Washington is encouraging closer security co-operation between Japan and Australia as it looks to its Pacific allies to shoulder a bigger security role as China's rise alters the balance of power in the region. Tensions between Asia's two largest economies have risen over what China sees as Japan's failure to properly atone for its wartime past, as well as a long-standing territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

Bishop arrived in Beijing on Tuesday after visiting Tokyo. Australia is seeking to deepen economic ties with China, its largest trading partner. Bishop said a "comprehensive evaluation process" was underway about a submarine deal that would meet Australia's capability and technological requirements.

"That is what will drive the competitive evaluation process that is currently underway," she added.