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Australian defense minister has ice-breaking meeting with Chinese counterpart
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 13 - 06 - 2022

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles revealed on Sunday that he held a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Gen, Wei Fenghe, on sidelines of the "Shangri La summit" in Singapore.
The Singaporean news agency, News Asia, quoted the minister as saying during a news conference that the meeting with the Chinese minister that lasted for more than hour and was "a crucial step" for warming up the icy ties between the two nations.
The Australian-Chinese relations are complicated, thus such encounters are necessary for dialogue, he added. He called on Beijing to be transparent with respect of its regional military buildup, warning of a prospected arms race in the region.
The Australian-Chinese relations turned sour in recent years. Canberra had called for an "independent inquiry" into outbreak of the coronavirus, while Beijing imposed restrictive measures against imports of Australian products.
Marles' one-on-one meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Singapore officially ended a two-year diplomatic freeze between Canberra and Beijing.
The meeting is Australia's first high-level contact with China since January 2020. Marles said China's recent interception of an Australian air force plane was raised in the meeting.
Marles described the meeting as a "frank and full exchange" in which he raised a number of issues of concern to Australia, including China's recent interception of an Australian air force plane over the South China Sea.
"This was an important meeting between two countries of consequence in the Indo-Pacific meeting," he said. "It was a critical first step."
"Australia and China's relationship is complex and it's precisely because of this complexity that it is really important that we are engaging in dialogue right now."
United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday there had been, "an alarming increase in the number of unsafe aerial intercepts and confrontations at sea" by Chinese planes and ships.
Fenghe rejected his "smearing accusation" and accused the US and unnamed countries of "meddling" in the contested waters and "stirring up trouble".
"Some big power has long practiced navigation hegemony on the pretext of freedom of navigation," he told the conference. "It [US] has flexed the muscles by sending warships and warplanes on a rampage in the South China Sea."
In a coordinated pushback against Beijing by Western allies, Marles expressed alarm at China's military build-up and rapid expansion in the region.
"Chinese militarization of features in the South China Sea needs to be understood for what it is: the intent to deny the legitimacy of its neighbors' claims in this vital international waterway through force," he said.
Those comments were echoed by Canada's Defense Minister Anita Anand, who expressed concern with China's "increasingly assertive behavior in the South China Sea".
"We believe China's actions have heightened tensions and undermined the rules-based international order," she said. The South China Sea is considered one of several potential flashpoints in a region where strategic competition is on the rise.
Marles' meeting with his Chinese counterpart will be seen as a positive step that could pave the way for more high-level talks between the two countries.
But the Albanese government has previously said it wants Beijing to demonstrate its desire to repair the strained relationship by dropping its trade sanctions against Australia.
"In moving forward, while there is a change in tone, there is absolutely no change in the substance of Australia's national interest," Marles said. — Agencies

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