The Chinese navy’s most advanced surveillance ship was detected in waters close to where U.S. and Australian forces are currently conducting joint military exercises.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type 815 Dongdiao-class Auxiliary General Intelligence vessel was spotted operating off the northeastern coast of Australia, near Queensland, during the Talisman Sabre drills.
The Chinese spy ship was outside of Australia’s territorial waters but inside its exclusive economic zone, leading Australian defense officials to condemn the move as “unfriendly” and “provocative,” according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Saturday.
“Exercise Talisman Sabre is currently taking place in the vicinity. The vessel’s presence has not detracted from the exercise objectives,” Australian defense department officials told ABC. Over 30,000 troops are taking part in the ongoing exercises.
The latest action comes just days after Wei Liang, the political commissar of the PLA’s Southern Theater Command, visited Australia for a “goodwill” meeting with Australian defense officials. The two sides stated that they would reinforce military ties and pursue positive relations.
Expert observers assert that China’s actions send an unfriendly message to the international community.
“At the moment what we see is a double standard where China picks the areas of the Law of the Sea that it likes and refuses to implement those that it doesn’t,” Dr. Euan Graham explained to reporters, adding, “I think it can only expect that to come back as a message in force from Australia and other countries.”
Australia has not been conducting freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea in order to avoid angering Beijing, which has put increased pressure on Australia to stay out of regional disputes. China has been particularly critical of Australia’s perceived past and present accommodation of the expansion of America’s military presence in the region.
The Chinese Ministry of National Defense has not yet responded to criticisms of China’s latest actions, but experts assert such activities are normal and in accordance with international law.
“It is understandable that they would be conducting close reconnaissance,” Li Jie, a Beijing-based military expert, told the South China Morning Post. The Talisman Sabre drills reportedly imagine enemies with capabilities similar to China and Russia, which are currently conducting joint exercises in the Baltic Sea.
Indeed, such actions are common for China.
When the U.S. tested a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system against an intermediate-range missile earlier this month, China dispatched a spy ship off the coast of Alaska to watch the test. A few years ago, China sent an uninvited spy ship to monitor the RIMPAC exercises.