China has reportedly asked Australia to command its navy vessels that are expected to take part in a military exercise off the coast of Hawaii in July, which will involve up to 20 countries.
This would, according to a China defence official, be the first time Chinese military assets have been commanded by a western nation during exercises, assuming the request — which Fairfax Media says was communicated through defence channels last week — is granted.
The People’s Liberation Army agreed to join humanitarian rescue components of the US-led “Rim of the Pacific” maritime exercises last year, and its ships would be under the direct control of the Australian Navy.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott will visit China, Japan and South Korea next week. These countries are Australia’s most important export destinations.
China publicly rebuked Australia last year, after Abbott described Japan as his country’s “best friend” in Asia. Australia also used official channels to criticise China’s establishment of an “Air Defence Identification Zone” over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
In recent weeks Chines military aircraft have been participating in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 off the coast off Perth.
Japan, riding a new wave of nationalism, has appeared on the verge of a military conflict with China during months of tense stand-offs in the East China Sea.
Abbott is scheduled to meet Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a defence cooperation agreement event on Monday. He will then have dinner with China’s President Xi Jinping, before visiting South Korea.
China has also previously criticised Australia for failing to protest against Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which it described as a sign of resurgent militarism.
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