SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian defence officials said on Monday they were tracking a Chinese surveillance ship that is expected to position itself just outside of its territorial waters to monitor military exercises between Australia and the United States.
Around 25,000 Australian and U.S. military personnel on board battleships equipped with strike jets will over the next month participate in bi-annual Talisman Sabre war games.
Lieutenant General Greg Bilton, chief of joint operations at the Australian Defence Force, said the Chinese surveillance vessel was probably headed to Australia’s northeast coast to get a first-hand look at the military exercises.
“We’re tracking it. We don’t know yet its destination but we are assuming that it will come down to the east coast of Queensland and we will take appropriate measures,” Bilton told reporters in Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland.
Relations between the United States and China have soured in recent months amid a trade war and perceived Chinese assertiveness in the Pacific, encapsulated by Beijing’s artificial island building in the disputed South China Sea.
China claims most of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims on the waterway.
Australia and China are also competing for influence in the South Pacific, a sparsely populated region that control vast swathes of resource rich oceans.
News of the Chinese surveillance ship approaching Australia follows the unannounced arrival of three Chinese vessels in Sydney last month, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protest.
China’s navy has grown dramatically over the past two decades as Beijing seeks to extend its power of influence and it now has one of the mightiest navies in the world.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)