Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop downplayed tensions over China’s controversial air defence zone, which has also rankled the United States, Japan and South Korea, after meeting her Chinese counterpart on Saturday.
“Australia is concerned that there be peace and stability in our region and we don’t want to see any escalation of the tensions,” Bishop told reporters following four hours of talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
“We want to see a de-escalation of tensions. It is in our interests, and indeed in the interests of a number of countries in our region, that there be peace and stability in the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and the region more generally.”
Bishop said discussion of the ADIZ only took up a “small proportion” of time in talks with Chinese leaders.
Most time was spent in talks on economic matters as opposed to political or cultural issues, though discussions also touched upon human rights, North Korea, Syria and Iran, she said.
But the strain between the two officials showed in Wang’s terse comments on Friday.
“Australia’s words and actions on the issue of China’s air defence zone have damaged the mutual trust between the two sides,” state news organisation Xinhua reported Wang as saying.
Tensions with China escalated after Bishop described Beijing’s move last month to impose a new airspace defence zone over disputed islands the East China Sea as “unhelpful” and summoned China’s ambassador to explain.
China’s Foreign Ministry rejected her remarks as “irresponsible” and “completely wrong”.
Bishop has denied the spat would damage new Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s stated aim of concluding stalled talks over a free trade agreement with China within the year.
Australia relies on China and other Asian nations to buy the bulk of its exports, particularly minerals and farm goods.
But a strengthening of ties with both the United States and Japan - which Abbott recently described as Australia’s best friend in Asia - has put Australia in a difficult position as the strategic rivalry between China and the United States grows.
China has also expressed concern at reports in Australian media that Australian embassies, including the Beijing embassy, were being used as part of a US-led spying operation.
Another thorn in the relationship has been Australia’s new government upholding a ban on China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltdfrom bidding for work on the country’s $38 billion National Broadband Network.
And this week, Autralian media said the government was investigating a suspected espionage case at the country’s top scientific organisation, with a Chinese national being probed for allegedly accessing sensitive data.