The prime minister has spoken publicly following reports a Chinese spy ship recently spent three weeks off Australia’s east coast.
It’s understood the vessel – General Intelligence Ship Yuhengxing – entered Australia’s 200km exclusive economic zone near Darwin, transited through the Torres Strait and sailed as far down as Sydney in August and September.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the ship was in waters off the Australian coast and not in territorial waters, adding that it was legally allowed to be there under international maritime law just as Australia is allowed to sail through the South China Sea.
“They were keeping a close eye on us, and we were keeping a close eye on them,” he told reporters in South Australia on Friday.
Mr Morrison said the significant security issues in the region warranted strong Australian action and reaffirmed the government’s need to acquire nuclear-propelled submarines.
“Australia has to be able to stand up and that requires great strength,” he said.
“The presence of the Chinese navy highlights to Australians that there is a very serious situation in the Indo-Pacific.
“There is never a time for weakness … particularly at a time when you’re dealing with these very significant security issues and the economic challenges we have.
“No one can be complacent about the situation.”
Mr Morrison said the government had remained “laser-focused” on Australia’s national security interests throughout the pandemic.
No one can be complacent about the situation
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told Sunrise that Australia had “closely monitored” the ship as part of routine border protection matters.
“Whilst this particular vessel was in our exclusive economic zone and we respect the sovereignty of that particular vessel, we will always respect that level of sovereignty, we do closely monitor any vessel as part of our routine border protection matters.”
“Of course we are very conscious of any vessels that are in or are approaching our waters.”
It’s understood the shop is capable of monitoring communications and radar signals and the electromagnetic spectrum as well as employing other surveillance methods such as optical sensors.
China has previously sent military ships to monitor defence training exercises, like Talisman Sabre off the east coast in July, and three warships sailed into Sydney Harbour in a planned but unannounced visit on the eve of the Tiananmen Square massacre anniversary in 2019.
– With AAP