A Chinese surveillance ship is floating off the coast of Queensland, monitoring military exercises between Australian and American forces, but deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce claims it is just one of many ways the country is “listening in” on Australian affairs.
The Talisman Sabre 2021 war games involving Australia and the United States are currently taking place off the coast of Queensland, with the Chinese vessel lingering in nearby international waters watching the exercise closely. China is not part of the war games, but Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the government had expected a Chinese vessel to arrive in the area to watch the games as they had done during previous games.
On Thursday morning, Joyce weighed in on the matter, telling 2GB the ship, named Tianwangxing, was one of several ways China was attempting to gather intelligence on Australia.
“This is the new world we live in and I think the [Chinese] embassy [has] already complained about me,” he told 2GB host Ben Fordham. “We’ve got to understand we live in a new global dynamic and that’s why I always say we’ve got to become as strong as possible, as quickly as possible.
“We can’t do anything about it, to be quite frank. They can sit in international waters and do their job. But that’s one section of the listening and there are other sections where they listen and 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.
“What we should be doing is understanding … what is interesting about Australia? It’s your iron ore, your coal … 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.”
Amid the ongoing tensions with China, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Sydney radio 2SM on Wednesday that he was “very wary” of the ship, but added that it was well within its rights and the government had “no objection” to it being in international waters.
“We have no objection to them being there. I mean, it’s international waters. They’re allowed to be there,” he said.
“We don’t raise any issue about that, just like we don’t think any issue should be raised when [anyone] – whether it’s us or the Americans or the British or the French or anyone else – is sailing through the South China Sea.
“Of course we’re watching them. We’re aware of that. And they’re watching us. The law of the sea says we can be up in the South China Sea.
“They’re in an area where they’re allowed to be and we know they’re there and we’re keeping a close eye on it and we know why we do.”
The ABC reported that the Tianwangxing approached Australia’s east coast via the Torres Strait on Tuesday ahead of the opening of the Talisman Sabre. Held in Queensland every two years, the event is the largest two-way training exercise between Australian and US military forces.
Dutton said the arrival of the surveillance vessel was “a repeat of what the Chinese have done in years past”.
“The presence of similar vessels did not detract from Talisman Sabre 2017 or Talisman Sabre 2019, and we are confident that it will not impede this year,” he added.