Australia says presence of Chinese spy ship off west coast is ‘worrying’

Australia says presence of Chinese spy ship off west coast is ‘worrying’

SYDNEY, May 13 (Reuters) – A Chinese intelligence ship has been spotted off Australia’s west coast within 50 nautical miles of a sensitive defense facility, Australia said on Friday, raising campaigning concerns at China’s assertive behavior in the region.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Chinese naval vessel is not in Australian territorial waters but its presence is “worrying”.

“It’s clearly an intelligence ship and they’re looking at us and we’re keeping a close eye on them,” he told reporters.

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Australia had been tracking the spy ship last week as it passed the Harold E. Holt naval communications station in Exmouth, which is used by Australian, US and allied submarines.

China’s embassy in Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Australia’s general election will be held on May 21 and the issue of a Chinese national security threat was a key campaign issue. Continue reading

“I think it’s an act of aggression. I think especially because it’s come so far south,” Defense Secretary Peter Dutton said at a news conference.

“It was in close proximity to military and intelligence installations on the west coast of Australia.”

Relations between the two main trading partners have been strained in recent years over various issues including Chinese influence in Australia and the Pacific region.

Dutton questioned the “odd timing” of the ship’s appearance, although Home Secretary Karen Andrews declined to link it to the election campaign and Morrison said Chinese naval vessels had previously been off the Australian coast.

The opposition Labor Party said it was seeking government briefings.

Chinese naval vessels have been spotted off Australia’s north and east coasts on several occasions in recent years, and the same Chinese vessel monitored Australian naval exercises with the US military off the east coast last year.

In February, China and Australia exchanged allegations over an incident in which Australia said one of its sea patrol planes detected a laser aimed at it from a People’s Liberation Army (PLAN) ship. Continue reading

Regarding the latest incident, Australia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the Dongdiao-class auxiliary intelligence ship named Haiwangxing sailed down the west coast on April 6.

“I certainly don’t think it could be called an act of bridge building or friendship, along with the many other coercive measures and the many statements that have attacked Australia’s national interests,” Morrison said.

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Reporting by Kirsty Needham and Wayne Coles; writing by Kirsty Needham and Praveen Menon; Edited by Himani Sarkar and Stephen Coates

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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