Chinese envoy likens Australia to 'sabre wielder' over nuclear submarine deal

Australia's relationship with China, its largest trading partner, has soured. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS, AFP) - Australia has become a "sabre wielder" rather than a defender of peace because of its plans to build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with United States and British technology, China's top envoy in the country told The Guardian.

Australia in September entered into the trilateral security partnership, cancelling a submarine deal with France in a move that enraged Paris. It also riled China, the major rising power in the Indo-Pacific region.

China's acting ambassador, Mr Wang Xining, said in an interview with the newspaper published on Friday (Nov 19) that the nuclear submarine deal jeopardised Australia's "peace-loving reputation".

He said people of his age in China saw Australia as a peace-loving country, "but nowadays people know that a nuclear-powered submarine is designed to launch long-range attack against a target far away".

"So who are you going to attack? You are no longer a peace lover, a peace defender, you become a sabre wielder in certain form," he said of Australia.

Canberra has defended the trilateral deal, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying he did not regret the decision "to put Australia's national interest first".

Mr Wang in the Guardian interview urged Australian politicians to "refrain from doing anything that is destructive" to the relationship between the two countries.

Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said last week it would be "inconceivable" for Australia not to join the US should Washington take action to defend Taiwan, the democratically governed island claimed by Beijing.

On Friday, he derided the "inflammatory" remarks, describing them in a television interview as "provocative, sort of comical statements, really that are so silly it's funny".

Mr Dutton said the acting Chinese ambassador "is probably reading off a script from the Communist Party but I think most Australians see through the non-productive nature of the comments".

The acting ambassador signalled Beijing would not take the initiative to end the freeze on calls between the two countries, saying speculation about engagement in a military conflict was "not a conducive environment" for high-level talks.

Australia's relationship with China, its largest trading partner, soured after it banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network in 2018 and called for an independent investigation into the origins of Covid-19. Beijing responded by imposing tariffs on several Australian commodities.

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