A Chinese surveillance ship is making its way towards Queensland ahead of a joint military exercise with the United States. Despite respecting freedom of navigation in international waters, Australia is ‘very wary’ of the ship, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. On Wednesday, he told Sydney radio station 2SM that the group was in an area where they were allowed to be. Asked about the ship, the prime minister acknowledged his worry. Morrison said, ‘We wouldn’t be watching them if we weren’t. Of course, we keep an eye on them. The issue is well known to us. Our eyes are on them’.
Tianguanxing, a Chinese electronic surveillance vessel, should arrive on Friday, closely monitoring the Talisman Sabre war games over the next fortnight. Morrison said the vessel had the same rights to be in the waters as Australian ships had in the South China Sea. ‘In light of this, we would simply say we support the same international laws and tolerate the same tolerance. Australia’s relations with China have reached their lowest point in many years’, he added.
In a statement to 7NEWS.com.au, the Department of Defence said its ship was heading towards the east coast of Australia via the Torres Strait. Australians support and respect 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. Australian defense minister Peter Dutton said Australia had ‘fully expected’ and ‘planned for’ a ship of this type to arrive in the region during Talisman Sabre. In sum, ‘their presence did not detract from TS17 (Talisman Sabre 2017) or TS19 (Talisman Sabre 2019) and we are confident it will not impact this year’s race’.
A patrol boat and surveillance aircraft from the Australian navy are monitoring the Tianguanxing. A number of factors have contributed to Australia’s steep diplomatic decline, including a decision to ban a Chinese company from building its 5G network. ‘National security interests will always come first in those decisions,’ says Morrison, who was treasurer when the controversial call was made five years ago.
The relationship has also been strained by China’s aggressive behavior in the Indo-Pacific and its attempts to exert economic pressure on Australia through trade strikes. Morrison, who recently attended a major international summit, told reporters that the United Kingdom and other allies are very interested in how Australia is handling China’s pressure. ‘They were very, very gratified with what we’ve done for our sovereignty because free countries, when they stand together, are always stronger’, he said.