Chinese surveillance ship heading towards Queensland waters ahead of joint Australia-US military exercise

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Australia is tracking a Chinese surveillance ship making its way towards Queensland ahead of a joint military exercise with the United States.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia respected freedom of navigation in international waters but was “very wary” of the ship.

“They’re in an area where they’re allowed to be and we know they’re there and we’re keeping a close eye on it,” he told Sydney radio 2SM on Wednesday.

When pressed, the prime minister conceded he was concerned about the ship.

“We wouldn’t be watching them if we weren’t,” Morrison said.

“Of course we watch them. We’re aware of that. And they’re watching us.”

The Chinese surveillance ship in the Arafura Sea on July 11, 2021. Credit: Australian Defence Force – Navy Imagery Unit/Supplied

The Chinese electronic surveillance vessel Tianguanxing is expected to arrive on Friday, closely monitoring Talisman Sabre war games taking place over the next fortnight.

Morrison said the vessel had the same legal rights to be in the waters as Australian ships had to sail through the South China Sea.

“And so, we would just simply say we think the same tolerances and the same appreciation of those international laws should apply.”

Australia’s relationship with China has sunk to its lowest ebb in many years.

China’s General Intelligence Ship Tianguanxing transits through the Arafura Sea on July 10, 2021.
China’s General Intelligence Ship Tianguanxing transits through the Arafura Sea on July 10, 2021. Credit: Australian Defence Force – Navy Imagery Unit
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan, off the coast of Queensland during Exercise Talisman Sabre in 2019.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan, off the coast of Queensland during Exercise Talisman Sabre in 2019. Credit: Darren England/AAP

The Department of Defence confirmed to 7NEWS.com.au that the ship is “approaching Australia’s east coast via the Torres Strait.”

“Australia supports and respects the rights of all states to exercise lawful freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace, just as we expect others to respect our right to do the same.”

Defence minister Peter Dutton said Australia had “fully expected” and “planned for” a ship of this type to arrive in the region during Talisman Sabre.

“The presence of similar vessels did not detract from TS17 (Talisman Sabre 2017) or TS19 (Talisman Sabre 2019) and we are confident that it will not impede this year.”

Military helicopters in formation during Talisman Sabre 2019.
Military helicopters in formation during Talisman Sabre 2019. Credit: Corporal Sean Spivey/NZ Defence Force/Supplied/AAP

The Tianguanxing is being monitored by an Australian navy patrol boat and surveillance aircraft.

Diplomatic decline

The steep diplomatic decline has been driven by several factors, including the decision to ban a Chinese company from building Australia’s 5G network.

Morrison was treasurer when the controversial call was made five years ago.

“National security interests will always come first in those decisions,” he said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) during the 2019 Talisman Sabre.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) during the 2019 Talisman Sabre. Credit: Darren England/AAP

The relationship has also been strained by China’s bullish behaviour in the Indo-Pacific and attempts to exert economic pressure on Australia through a series of trade strikes.

Morrison, who recently attended a major international summit, said the United Kingdom and other allies were very interested in how Australia was faring under the pressures applied by China.

“And they were very, very congratulatory about the strong stand we’ve taken for our sovereignty because free countries, when they stand together, are always stronger.”

– with AAP

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