The Australian military is keeping tabs on the PLA naval surveillance ship, Tianwangxing, as it travels towards Queensland waters off the country’s north-east coast. The vessel is widely believed to be planning to observe military drills involving military personnel from Australia and the United States, which got under way this week.
Australian Senator Eric Abetz, chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, contrasted Beijing’s behaviour with its attitude to ships passing within waters off in south-east Asia.
He told Express.co.uk: “Australia is carefully monitoring the situation and the timing of the intelligence ship visiting our waters.
“One may well suspect it is a deliberate act ahead of the Talisman Sabre war games.”
While the ship was in Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, it was allowed to travel through in accordance with international maritime law, Mr Abetz acknowledged.
However, he added: “It is hypocritical for China to practice freedom of navigation so close to our shores while at the same time voicing loud protestations against other nations that conduct the same freedom of navigation exercises through the South China Sea.
“If Australia or another country were to transit through China’s Exclusive Economic Zone, there would be the predictable belligerent claims from the CCP dictatorship about ‘interference in China’s internal affairs’.”
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The Tianwangxing is fitted with advanced communications systems including several domes which conceal dish antennas.
Speaking yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the ship was just one example of how China was “listening in” on the exercises.
He told Sydney-based radio station 2GB: “We can’t do anything about the ship in Queensland, quite frankly. They can sit in international waters and do their job.
“But that’s one section of the listening and there are other sections where they try to hack in.”
He added: “They have computers that will basically try and break into our computers and into our secret areas and communication networks.
“But you have to ask what is interesting about Australia? It’s your iron ore, your gas, your vital agricultural exports and your alliances and how close your platform is with the United States.
“China wants to learn how well your platforms work together in comparison to their platforms and their military exercises.”
Talisman Sabre (TS21), which is staged every two years, is a large-scale joint military exercise involving Air Force, Army and Navy personnel from both countries.
A statement carried on the website of Australia’s Department of Defence explains: “TS21 is the largest bilateral combined training activity between the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and United States (US) military.
“It is designed to test our respective forces in planning and conducting Combined and Joint Task Force operations and improve the combat readiness and interoperability between Australian and US forces.”