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Defence tracking ‘unusual’ activity from PLA vessel

The ADF is monitoring a Chinese military vessel travelling along the west coast of Australia.

The ADF is monitoring a Chinese military vessel travelling along the west coast of Australia.

Defence has issued a statement confirming a Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) Intelligence Collection Vessel is operating off the north-west shelf of Australia.

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The Dongdiao Class Auxiliary Intelligence ship, named Haiwangxing, travelled down the west coast near the town of Exmouth in Western Australia, before tracking east along the north-west coast.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has deployed both air and maritime platforms to the area, including a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-8A Poseidon, tasked with “actively monitoring” the PLA-N vessel’s activities.

“Australia respects the right of all states to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace, just as we expect others to respect our right to do the same,” Defence noted in a statement.

“Defence will continue to monitor the ship’s operation in our maritime approaches.”

Minister for Defence Peter Dutton has described the PLA-N activity as "unusual", given the vessel's unprecedented movement south of Exmouth. 

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“It’s strange timing and it’s without precedent that this vessel would come so far south,” he told media.

“[The vessel is] essentially hugging the coastline and is now heading up the direction of Darwin. [It’s] not a usual practice and we’re monitoring it very closely.”

 Minister Dutton said he suspects the vessel has been sent to survey Australian waters and gather intelligence on defence sites in the region. 

"There’s certainly the desire for [China] to look hydrographically, which is why they send vessels from time to time — to look at routes for submarines, to look at coastline facilities, and importantly the Harold E. Holt facility is in that vicinity," he said. 

"They will be seeking to target that particular location and other military installations we have along the WA coast."

This is the latest of several reports of Chinese military activity along Australia's coastline over the past 12 months.

In February, Defence flagged a suspected laser attack on a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon while in flight over Australia’s northern approaches.

According to intelligence gathered by RAAF personnel, the laser emanated from a Chinese PLA-N Luyang Class guided missile destroyer travelling through the Arafura Sea alongside a PLAN Yuzhao Class amphibious transport dock vessel.

Defence condemned the “unprofessional and unsafe military conduct”, warning it could have endangered the lives of the P-8A Poseidon crew.

Last June, two People’s Liberation Army Navy General Intelligence ships – Tianguanxing and Haiwangxing – approached the Queensland coast during Exercise Talisman Sabre 21.

At the time, Minister Peter Dutton said it was a reminder of the changing dynamic in the Indo-Pacific, and the ramp-up in China’s military presence.

These reports have come amid ongoing tensions between Canberra and Beijing, sparked by the Commonwealth government’s public condemnation of the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights abuses, intimidation of the people of Taiwan and Hong Kong, and mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

[Related: PM condemns Chinese laser attack on RAAF P-8A Poseidon ]

Charbel Kadib

Charbel Kadib

News Editor – Defence and Security, Momentum Media

Prior to joining the defence and aerospace team in 2020, Charbel was news editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business, where he covered developments in the banking and financial services sector for three years. Charbel has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations, graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a double major in politics and journalism. Charbel has also completed internships with The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts and public relations agency Fifty Acres.

Defence tracking ‘unusual’ activity from PLA vessel
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