China hopes that Australia will tone down the rhetoric on the South China Sea territorial dispute, as well as Canberra’s military movements, a high-ranking Chinese military representative told the head of the Australian Defense Force during a meeting in Beijing.
Fan Changlong, a vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, met with Mark Binskin, Australia’s Air Chief Marshal, according to the China Defense ministry, and detailed that Beijing wishes to strengthen military ties between the two countries.
The China military commission official remarked that he “hopes that on the South China Sea issue the Australian side can speak and act cautiously, and that its words and deeds match,” according to the Japan Times. The ministry provided no further commentary.
These remarks directly follow a defense deal struck between Australia and Singapore, under which the Singapore military will triple its annual access to the Australian training grounds, to 18 weeks. Singapore troop numbers will also increase, from 6,600 to 14,000.
REUTERS/ U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters
The Australian and Singaporean prime ministers insist that their bilateral military support should not be perceived as opposition to China’s increasing presence in the region.
“I don’t think that Singapore and Australia together could possibly be seen as a bloc” against China, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters.
“We are good friends, but we are not treaty allies and neither are we opposed to any countries in the region,” he said, adding that China is the largest trading partner for both Singapore and Australia.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stressed that he shares the belief with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee that the ongoing US military presence in the region has underpinned “extraordinary growth, perhaps most of all in China.”
“The importance of American engagement in our region cannot be overstated,” he said.
Last year, China criticized Australia for conducting surveillance flights over islands in South China Sea and supporting “freedom of navigation” exercises by the US in the region. However, Australia refrained from conducting maritime military operations of its own.