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France urges Beijing to help avert 'crisis' in South China Sea

SYDNEY, Australia — France's top diplomat urged Beijing on Monday to re-think its assertive behavior in the South China Sea, saying the "world doesn't need a new crisis".

Beijing has been ramping up military drills in the strategically crucial Taiwan Strait, while the Chinese coast guard has been accused of harassing Filipino fishing boats in disputed waters.

Australia criticised Beijing last month for its "unsafe and unprofessional" conduct at sea, saying one of its navy divers was injured by sonar pulses from an approaching Chinese warship. 

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, speaking at the Australian Press Club in Canberra, said China should play its part to reduce tensions in the Asia-Pacific region. 

"We are of course concerned by what happened a few days ago to the Australian navy, as well as what happened to the Philippines a few weeks ago," she said. 

"Calm and stability must prevail in the Taiwan Strait, and certainly the world doesn't need a new crisis," she added. 

Colonna stressed China should be free to pursue its "economic rise", but that in exchange it needed to meet international expectations on issues such as human rights.

"For all these reasons we will keep engaging China constructively, and there are actually encouraging signs," she said. 

"Our efforts are paying off somehow and creating positive trends of cooperation." 

Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, including waters and islands close to the shores of its neighbours.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have also staked claims to various islands and reefs in the sea, which is believed to contain rich petroleum reserves.