Scott Morrison said the presence of a Chinese navy ship on Australia’s west coast was “alarming”.
Saying that although the ship is not in Australian territorial waters, a sensitive defense facility is within 50 nautical miles, the prime minister said: “It is clear that this is an intelligence ship and they are looking at us and we are watching closely. on them.”
“Taken together with many other coercive actions and many statements made that attack Australia’s national interests, I absolutely do not believe you can describe this as an act of bridging or friendship,” he said. Morrison added it.
Australia has a number of military facilities on the west coast, including the Exmouth base, where the Chinese navy ship Haiwangxing, identified as the Dongdiao Class Auxiliary Intelligence ship, was spotted.
On Friday, defense secretary Peter Dutton called it an act of aggression.
“I think it’s come a long way, especially to the south,” Dutton said at a news conference. “It was close to military and intelligence facilities on the west coast of Australia.”
“Australia respects the right of all states to exercise freedom of navigation and flight in international waters and airspace, just as we expect other states to respect our right to do the same,” the country’s defense ministry said in a statement. “The defense will continue to monitor the ship’s operation in our maritime approaches.”
Relations between the two countries have been strained in recent years, particularly because of China’s influence in Australia and the Pacific region, and most recently after Beijing signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands.
While full details of the agreement have not been disclosed, a draft copy shows that the agreement allows China to send police and military personnel to the Solomon Islands, while also opening the door for Chinese warships to stop in port.
A possible Chinese naval base at the gates of Australia and New Zealand has triggered concerns.
Some senior Australian government lawmakers have suggested that Beijing timed the announcement of the Solomons deal during an election campaign to undermine the ruling coalition’s chances of retaining power in the 21 May election.
Earlier this year, Beijing and Canberra filed charges against each other over an incident in which the Australian side said one of their maritime patrol aircraft detected a laser directed at it from a People’s Liberation Army Navy ship.
Additional reporting by agencies