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

SYDNEY, May 13 (Reuters) – A Chinese intelligence vessel was tracked off the west coast of Australia within 50 nautical miles of a sensitive defense facility, Australia said Friday, raising concerns amid an election campaign over China’s behavior in the region.

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

“Obviously it’s an intelligence ship and they’re watching us and we’re watching them closely,” he told reporters.

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Australia had been tracking the spy ship for the past week as it passed Naval Communications Station Harold E Holt in Exmouth, which is used by Australian, US and Allied submarines.

The Chinese embassy in Australia did not respond to a request for comment.

Australia will hold national elections on May 21 and the issue of a threat to national security posed by China has been a campaign theme. read more

“I think it’s an act of aggression. I think mostly 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 agencies on the west coast of Australia.”

Relations between the two major trading partners have been tense in recent years over several issues, including Chinese influence in Australia and the Pacific region.

Dutton questioned the “strange timing” of the ship’s appearance, though 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 a briefing from the government.

Chinese naval vessels have been tracked several times in recent years off Australia’s north and east coasts, and the same Chinese vessel followed 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 maritime patrol aircraft detected a laser aimed at it from a People’s Liberation Army PLAN vessel. read more

About the latest incident, the Australian Defense Department said in a statement that the Dongdiao Class Auxiliary Intelligence vessel named Haiwangxing traveled along the west coast, entered Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone on May 6 and came within 50 nautical miles of the communications station on May 11.

The EEZ is located 200 nautical miles from the coast, while the territorial sea is within a limit of 12 nautical miles.

“I certainly don’t believe that, along with the many other compulsions and the many statements that have been made that have attacked Australia’s national interests, you could describe it as an act of bridge building or friendship,” Morrison said. said.

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

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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