Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton has claimed that a high-tech Chinese spy ship has been “hugging” the West coast of Australia, near a secretive communications base that supports U.S. and other allied submarines.
In November 2021, Australia began a program to equip its navy with nuclear-powered submarines in a new defense alliance with the U.K and the U.S. The three countries announced the AUKUS deal in September 2021, for America and Britain to provide Australia with nuclear maritime technology in a move to counter tensions in the Pacific where China-U.S. rivalry is growing.
Dutton told reporters on Friday that the Chinese auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) vessel was monitored by the Australian Defense Forces as it was in transit past the Harold E Holt naval station in Exmouth.
Dutton said Australia had been tracking the spy ship over the last “week or so.”
He said it was “very strange” that the vessel had “hugged” the coastline as the ship headed back north towards Darwin.
“Its intent, of course, is to collect intelligence right along the coastline,” Dutton said.
“It has been in close proximity to military and intelligence installations on the west coast of Australia.”
Dutton called it “an aggressive act” without precedent.
“Its cited as at 0600 hours this morning 250 nautical miles north-west of Broome and tracking north-east at 12 knots,” he said.
“It is unusual in terms of the way in which it has come so far south, and the way in which it is hugging the coastline as it heads up in the direction of Darwin.
“We’ll continue to monitor that. We have obviously had a number of aircraft involved in the surveillance of this particular vessel.”
Dutton said he had not seen a ship from the People’s Liberation Army Navy “come this far south.”
Newsweek has contacted the Chinese embassy in Australia for comment.
China’s new Ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian told SkyNewsAu that he wanted to improve ties between the two countries despite the tensions in the Pacific.
“We are looking forward to future possibilities that China and Australia—we can join efforts to review our past and look into the future,” he told the television channel.
Under last year’s AUKUS deal, Australia is obtaining eight state-of-the-art, nuclear-powered submarines capable of covert, long-range missions. The three countries would also share cyber and artificial intelligence, as well as other undersea capabilities.
At the time, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the pact “extremely irresponsible behavior.” He said it “undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race.”
As well as China, the deal irked France, which discovered at the last minute that its own diesel-electric submarine contract, estimated to be around $65 billion, with Australia had been axed.
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