Chinese surveillance ship heading towards Queensland waters ahead of joint Australia-US military exercise
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 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.
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.”
The Tianguanxing is being monitored by an Australian navy patrol boat and surveillance aircraft.
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.
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