Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce claims a Chinese surveillance ship monitoring Australian-American exercises off the coast of Queensland is just one of many avenues Beijing is “listening in” on Australian affairs.
A Chinese auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) vessel called Tianwangxing is watching the Talisman Sabre 2021 war games involving Australia and the United States.
The fortnight-long war-games exercises are being closely monitored by the Chinese Type 815 ship, which is expected to remain outside Australian territorial waters but within Australia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Coral Sea.
Tianwangxing is expected to motor up and down Australia’s 22km territorial boundary.
It is entitled to be there because it is not performing any economic activity.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the Australian Defence Force (ADF) had been closely monitoring the Chinese military vessel for “several days”.
But Nationals Leader Mr Joyce said it was just one of several ways China was attempting to glean information about Australia.
“We can’t do anything about (the ship in Queensland), quite frankly. They can sit in international waters and do their job,” Mr Joyce said on 2GB on Thursday.
“But that’s one section of the listening and there are other sections where they try to hack in.
“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).”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday he was “very wary” of the Chinese ship’s presence.
“Of course we’re watching them,” he said. “And they’re watching us. The law of the sea says we can be up in the South China Sea.
“And so we simply say that we think the same tolerances and the same appreciation of those international laws should apply.”
The Talisman Sabre also involves Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom, while Australian-based personnel from India, Indonesia, France and Germany will also observe.
At the 2019 Talisman Sabre war games, the same Chinese vessel was also tracked by the ADF as it travelled to Australia.
It’s the ninth iteration of the war games and incorporates force preparation activities, amphibious landings, ground force manoeuvres, urban operations, and air combat and maritime operations.