A Chinese intelligence ship tracked off the coast of Western Australia is an “act of aggression” by Beijing, Australian Minister for Defence Peter Dutton said yesterday, in the latest pre-election warning about China’s military intentions.
Australia had tracked the spy ship over the past week as it sailed past the Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt at Exmouth, which is used by Australian, US and allied submarines.
“I think it is an act of aggression. I think particularly because it has come so far south,” Dutton told a news conference in Perth.
Photo: AFP / Australian Defence Force
In the run-up to federal elections on Saturday next week, with the government trailing in opinion polls, Dutton has been warning voters not to trust the opposition Labor Party with Australia’s security.
Dutton said the vessel had been sailing close to the coastline for the “last week or so.”
Although he said that he could not reveal when Australia became aware of the ship for “operational reasons,” a defense ministry statement showed that it had been tracking the Dongdiao Class Auxiliary Intelligence ship named Haiwangxing since Friday last week.
Australia’s air force was monitoring the ship, which had entered the country’s exclusive economic zone, he said.
The zone extends beyond Australia’s territorial waters and the government has previously said it accepts that Chinese spy ships can operate there.
“Its intention, of course, is to collect intelligence right along the coastline, and it has been in close proximity to military and intelligence installations,” Dutton said.
He said it was “unusual” in the way that it had sailed so far south and was hugging the coastline.
He provided a map of the ship’s route and video of the vessel, saying he was speaking about the spy ship “because it is best to be honest and open with the Australian public.”
He also took the opportunity to warn voters not to support opposition Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese.
“It is a huge risk of this election not to go to Mr Albanese because they just don’t take defense seriously,” he said.
Asked about the ship sighting, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) yesterday said he had no information about the specific situation, but that “China always abides by international law and international practice.”
“The relevant Australian politician should see the relevant situation objectively and calmly, and not make sensational remarks,” Zhao told reporters at a daily news briefing.
Additional reporting by AP
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