A Chinese warship is believed to have been sent to spy on war games between the US, Australia, and Japan

Cpl. Anthony Forbes, an assault amphibious vehicle crew chief with India Company, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, heads toward land during rehearsals for Exercise Talisman Saber 17 near the Australian Defence Force's Cowley Beach Training Area, Queensland, Australia, July 8, 2017.

  • The Australian military is keeping a close eye on a Chinese surveillance vessel believed to have been sent to monitor the Talisman Saber joint military exercises involving American, Australian, and Japanese troops.
  • "We're tracking it," Lt. Gen. Greg Bilton, the Australian Defense Force's Chief of Defense Joint Operations, said Saturday.
  • Chinese Type 815G Dongdiao-class Auxiliary General Intelligence (AGI) ships, like the one sailing toward Australia, have been sent out to monitor other military exercises in the Pacific, such as the big Rim of the Pacific drills and previous iterations of the Talisman Saber exercises.
  • Such activities are permitted in international waters by international law, although China routinely objects to such activities by other countries, the US in particular.
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The Australian military is monitoring a Chinese surveillance vessel believed to have been sent to spy on the Talisman Saber war games being held on the coast of Queensland.

The People's Liberation Army Navy Type 815G Dongdiao-class Auxiliary General Intelligence (AGI) ship is now sailing toward Australia, presumably to observe the joint military exercises involving American, Australian, and Japanese forces, Australia's ABC News reported, revealing that up to 25,000 troops will be participating in the "high-end" warfighting exercises.Advertisement

"We're tracking it," Lt. Gen. Greg Bilton, Chief of Defense Joint Operations, explained Saturday. "We don't know yet what its destination is, but we're assuming that it will come down to the east coast of Queensland, and we'll take appropriate measures in regards to that." He did not elaborate on the response.

He did, however, acknowledge that the Chinese ship is in international waters, where it has the right to sail and, if it so desires, conduct surveillance operations.

"All nations have the right under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to conduct military surveillance operations in international waters outside a state's 12 nautical mile territorial sea," Ashley Townshend, Director of Foreign Policy and Defence at the United States Studies Centre in Sydney, told news.com.au.

"While the US and Australia - along with most other nations - accept this principle and grant it to China, Beijing does not extend this right to other nations in the South China Sea, where it routinely chases away foreign vessels."

China has long objected to "close-in surveillance" by the US Navy near its shores, despite the People's Liberation Army Navy routinely doing the same. Chinese AGI vessels have, in recent years, been making frequent appearances at the joint military exercises in the Pacific. The Australian Defence Department told reporters that it is "aware that there will likely be interest from other countries in exercise Talisman Saber."Advertisement

One of China's AGI vessels was spotted lurking off the Australian coast 2017 during the last iteration of the Talisman Saber exercises.

Read more: A Chinese spy ship spotted near US-Australian war games may signal an evolution in China's behavior at sea

The Chinese navy was disinvited from participating in 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises in response to the militarization of the South China Sea by Chinese forces. Nonetheless, China sent one of its spy ships to monitor the exercises from off the coast of Hawaii.Advertisement

"We've taken all precautions necessary to protect our critical information. The ship's presence has not affected the conduct of the exercise," US Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Charlie Brown told USNI News at the time.

By allowing the Chinese military to engage in these types of surveillance activities, the US and its allies are hopeful that China will eventually offer the reciprocity it has thus far been unwilling to grant, Ankit Panda, senior editor at The Diplomat, argued.

"For international rules to function they must be reciprocated," Townshend told news.com.au.Advertisement

Australian military officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told local broadcaster ABC News that they suspected that a new aspect of Japan's participation in this year's Talisman Saber drills has piqued China's interests.

"This year's Talisman Saber involves the Japanese Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, which was created last year primarily as a response option for potential Chinese incursion in the Senkaku Islands," one official told reporters, adding, "Their capability and interoperability with Australia and the United States will be of interest to Beijing."

China has not yet commented on the matter.Advertisement