A Chinese spy ship has been operating off Australia’s northeast coast at the same time local and US forces are taking part in joint military exercises.
The Chinese general intelligence vessel had been spotted “in the vicinity” of the Talisman Sabre 17 war games, the Australian Defence Department said on Saturday. Earlier this week the department hosted a Chinese army general during an Australian visit.
“The Chinese vessel has remained outside Australian territorial waters but inside the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone in the Coral Sea,” a Defence statement said.
“The vessel’s presence has not detracted from the exercise objectives.”
Senior Australian military figures said the appearance of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy Type 815 Dongdiao-class intelligence-gathering vessel was “provocative” and “unfriendly”, the ABC reported.
Australian and US forces take part in Exercise Talisman Sabre every other year, with the 2017 operation involving more than 30,000 personnel.
This year’s event, which is the seventh of its kind, is scheduled to run until late July, with the majority of the training exercises to take place in near Rockhampton.
More than 33,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines from Australia, the US, New Zealand, Japan and Canada have spent the past three weeks involved in the realistic, scenario-based military exercises.
Earlier this week the Defence Department hosted the Political Commissar, Southern Theatre Command, for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, General Wei Liang, on a goodwill visit.
The July 15-19 visit included discussions with senior officials, including the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, the department said.
“The meetings between senior Defence officials and General Wei Liang provided an opportunity to exchange views on regional issues and Australia-China defence engagement,’’ a department statement said.
“It is important for Australia and China to maintain a positive defence relationship,” Air Chief Marshal Binskin said.
“I had a meaningful discussion with General Wei and welcomed the opportunity to reinforce the relationship between Australia and China.”
The delegation’s visit was an opportunity to strengthen people-to-people links and foster transparency between the Australian Defence Force and the PLA, the department said.