Underlining the security threat from Beijing, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said reports of a Chinese spy ship encircling Australia’s coast earlier this year highlight the “very serious situation” in the Indo-Pacific region.
This comes after reports emerged in the UK that the Chinese vessel had been spotted around the coast of Australia for three weeks in August and September, collecting electronic information as it passed sensitive military installations, an Australian news website reported.
The report first published in The Daily Telegraph said the Chinese vessel – capable of tracking communications and radar signals – was a Dongdiao-class vessel. It is similar to the one that followed the military exercises between Australia and the US earlier this year.
“I think the presence of the Chinese Navy – which we were aware of, and they were watching us closely and we were watching them closely – the importance of this is to emphasize to Australians that there is a very serious situation in the Indo-Pacific,” Morrison told reporters in Adelaide on Friday.
“They have every right to be where they are. We knew they were there. Under international law of the sea, they can be there. But don’t think we weren’t watching them as they tried to keep an eye on us.”
Australia must be able to stand up, and that requires great strength, Morrison added. “I have been criticized by many for the strong stance I have taken on this matter,” he said.
The British publication said the ship entered Australia’s 200km exclusive economic zone off the coast of Darwin in August before slowly heading south and hugging the coastline.
According to reports, the ship monitored a number of key military training areas as it traveled as far south as Sydney before crossing the Tasman towards New Zealand.
The reports in the Australian publication said China routinely sends spy ships to monitor military exercises near Australia, including in 2017 and 2019. However, the latest appearance was reportedly considered unusual as no exercises or war games were taking place.
Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton confirmed the sighting of the Chinese vessel, saying “they have not broken any law”.
“It was not the first time. As you know during Operation Talisman Saber, a big exercise off the coast of Queensland, the PLA had also deployed some ships there. So they will be involved in intelligence gathering, signal collecting,” he said. he on Nine’s Today program.
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