The federal government has clarified its stance over a long-running territorial dispute in the East China Sea, saying it does not have a position on the row between China and Japan.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop outlined Australia’s view to her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing, after he rebuked her for expressing concern about a new defence zone in the East China Sea.
Australia last month drew China’s ire for criticising its new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), which covers a string of disputed islands claimed as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
The issue flared up during Ms Bishop’s trip to Beijing, with Mr Wang taking the rare step of reproaching his visiting counterpart in front of the media.
He accused Australia of “jeopardising bilateral mutual trust” and said “the entire Chinese society and the general public are deeply dissatisfied” with Ms Bishop’s comments.
Ms Bishop said she respected China’s right to speak out on issues of national importance, but she repeated Australia’s concerns about peace and stability in the region.
However, she also clarified Australia’s stance on the prickly island dispute.
“We take no position on the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, but we take decisions in our national interest,” she told Mr Wang.
“We urge that there be no unilateral actions, nor coercive actions, but that both sides act in accordance with international law.”
She hoped China would in turn respect Australia’s right to speak out on actions affecting a region of critical security importance to Australia.
Ms Bishop told reporters afterwards that her talks with top Chinese officials were wide-ranging and discussions of the ADIZ took up only “a small proportion” of the time.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Josh Frydenberg defended Ms Bishop, saying she was “absolutely right” to raise Australia’s concerns about the disputed island region.
“We do not have a position on the competing maritime claim, particularly between Japan and China, over the Senkaku and Diaoyu islands,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
“But we do not believe that the recent moves have added to stability in the area.”
China is Australia’s top two-way trading partner, followed by Japan.