A Chinese spy ship that has been closely tracked by the Australian Defence Force has now arrived off the coast of Queensland to monitor joint military exercises.
Late last week a Chinese surveillance vessel began making its way south towards Australia ahead of the start of Exercise Talisman Sabre involving Australian, US and Japanese militaries.
Sources have told the ABC the spy ship has now reached Australia’s “exclusive economic zone” in the Coral Sea, but is staying outside territorial waters.
The Defence Department says it is expecting international interest in Exercise Talisman Sabre, but has referred questions about movements of Chinese vessels to Beijing.
The Auxiliary General Intelligence (AGI) is fitted with advanced communications systems designed to eavesdrop on other militaries, and is the same class of vessel that the ABC revealed had been monitoring the 2017 Talisman Sabre war games.
Up to 25,000 military personnel, mainly from the United States and Australia, are taking part in this year’s war games, which are focused on planning and conducting mid-intensity “high-end” warfighting.
Defence sources believe the Chinese are particularly interested in how its Maritime Self-Defence Force operates with the ADF and the United States.
“This year’s Talisman Sabre involves the Japanese Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, which was created last year primarily as a response option for potential Chinese incursion in the Senkaku Islands”, a military official told the ABC, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“Their capability and interoperability with Australia and the United States will be of interest to Beijing.”
Lieutenant General Greg Bilton would not comment on exactly how the ADF would respond to the presence of the ship.
“I’m not going to go into operational details, but we’ll just take appropriate actions in regards to that vessel,” he said.
“It’s a vessel that collects information, so it’s not a great threat but we’ll take appropriate action.”
Just last month three Chinese warships caught locals by surprise after arriving in Sydney Harbour for a visit which was not publicly announced in advance by the Australian Government.
In May, the ABC revealed the Australian Navy had been closely followed by the Chinese military during a recent transit of the South China Sea, near islands controversially claimed by Beijing.
The Defence Force later confirmed that Australian Navy pilots had been targeted by laser attacks in the disputed waters, with Chinese maritime militia vessels believed to be responsible.