Australia has the right to send warships in South China Sea, says Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said a Chinese ‘spy ship’ spotted off the Australian coast had every right to be in international waters – but he expected Beijing to afford Australian navy ships the same right in the disputed South China Sea.

“They have every right to be there, under International maritime law, just like we have every right to be in the South China Sea,” Mr Morrison said today during a visit to South Australia.

Mr Morrison added that there was a “very serious situation” in the Pacific region involving China.

A file photo of the Chinese navy surveillance ship Tianwangxing that monitored military exercises in Queensland earlier this year. (US Naval Institute)

“I think the presence of the Chinese Navy, which we were aware of, and they were keeping a close eye on us and we were keeping a close eye on them. The importance of that is to highlight Australians that there is a very serious situation in the Indo-Pacific.

“I have been saying that for a long time. These things are true. Australia had to be able to stand up, and that requires great strength.”

Defence Minister Peter Dutton earlier confirmed that a the vessel spent three weeks off the Australian coast this year.

Mr Dutton told Today that the surveillance vessel remained outside Australian waters and did not break any laws.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy ship sailed from waters off Darwin hugging the coastline and headed as far south as Sydney.

Mr Dutton said its crew were probably monitoring signals and other communications for a prolonged period.

“They will be involved in intelligence collection, signals collection. They will be looking to survey different attributes and have that general presence.”

Mr Dutton said the incident earlier this year was a reminder of China’s military build-up.

“China has in its fleet 355 ships and submarines, that goes to 460 within the next nine years or so. It’s a concerning time.

“That is why Australia has to be strong and stands up for our values. I think it’s right that people have a clear picture of what is going on.”

In July, a Chinese surveillance ship stationed off Queensland waters monitored Australian-hosted military exercises.

It surveilled the Talisman Sabre 2021 military exercises involving Australia, the US and other international forces.

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