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Australia claims Chinese spy ship did not follow the law of the sea

Australia claims Chinese spy ship did not follow the law of the sea

SYDNEY: Australia said that a Chinese spy ship detected near Australia’s west coast within 50 nautical miles of a critical defense base did not violate international maritime restrictions.

Over the last week, Australia has tracked the spy ship as it traveled by the Harold E Holt naval communications station in Exmouth, Western Australia, used by Australian, US, and ally submarines.

The Chinese naval warship was not in Australian territorial waters. Still, its presence was “concerning,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, during an election campaign in which China’s behavior in the area has taken center stage.

China’s national security concern, notably its rising influence in the Pacific, has been a key subject in the campaign for the general election on May 21.

When asked whether the ship’s actions were a “red line,” Morrison replied freedom of navigation was allowed all around the globe and the ship had not infringed any maritime regulations.

“There has been no violation of international maritime law,” he told reporters on the campaign trail in Melbourne. However, he added that the situation underlined Australia’s difficulties due to China’s “efforts to impose its will throughout the region.”

Anthony Albanese, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, said on Saturday that he shared the government’s worries about the vessel and had requested a briefing.

According to Defence Minister Peter Dutton, the vessel’s action is “an act of hostility” since it has traveled so far south.

When questioned about Dutton’s statements on Friday, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhao Lijian said he was unaware of the details. China always followed international law and encouraged Australian politicians to “refrain from alarmism.”

On Saturday, the Chinese embassy in Australia did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

After the tiny Pacific island country signed a security treaty with China, relations between Australia and China, important trade partners, have been strained lately by rising Chinese involvement in the Solomon Islands. 

Chinese naval warships have been seen off Australia’s northern and eastern shores in recent years. Last year, the same Chinese ship observed Australian naval maneuvers with the US military off the east coast.

In February, China and Australia exchanged barbs when one of Australia’s maritime surveillance planes spotted a laser pointed at it from a People’s Liberation Army Navy vessel.