A Chinese ship is suspected of spying on Australia’s largest warship while it was visiting the South Pacific nation of Fiji, according to the Australian navy.
The news emerges as China continues to expand its presence in the South Pacific.
When the aircraft carrier HMAS Adelaide arrived at the Fijian port of Suva on June 9, Australian naval forces detected a Chinese vessel fitted with communications equipment docked near the carrier, according to a June 9 report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC).
Captain Jim Hutton said the HMAS Adelaide and other warships were taking “appropriate security precautions.”
ABC also reported that the vessel has the capability to track satellite launches from the ocean and collect intelligence on other naval vessels.
This type of overt surveillance is not unusual. “If you’re in the navy, you presume that anytime that a fishing vessel or even merchant fleets of nations like China are around that they may have a dual purpose,” Australian National University researcher and retired Australian Naval Commodore Richard Menhinick told ABC.
Last July, Australia’s Department of Defence confirmed that a Chinese spy ship had been loitering in international waters while Australia and the United States were conducting a joint military exercise in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland.
The Chinese ship’s model was one of the world’s most advanced, and it had been “monitoring and recording communications, radar signals, and movements,” reported ABC. The ship ventured into Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, but did not go into territorial waters. However, the move was considered a provocation due to its close proximity to Australia’s largest joint exercise, called Talisman Sabre.
“At the moment, what we see is a double standard where China picks the areas of the Law of the Sea that it likes and refuses to implement those that it doesn’t,” said Euan Graham of the Lowy Institute think tank, when the incident took place.
One such instance is China’s increased militarization in the South China Sea, where it has built artificial islands outfitted with air and naval bases, an intelligence center, defensive fortifications, and most recently, bombers.
On June 8, during a visit to Australia, commander of U.S. Marines in the Pacific Lt. Gen. David Berger said the United States would welcome joining forces with Australia to conduct freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Such naval operations challenge Beijing’s attempts to claim other nations’ territories in the area.
Recently, China has also sought to expand its geopolitical influence in the South Pacific, particularly with economic investments. Chinese regime-friendly telecoms firm Huawei was slated to build undersea internet cables for the Solomon Islands, but Australian officials pressured the nation to drop the deal.
In April, Australian media reported that China had plans to build a permanent military base on the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, which the Vanuatu government has denied.
According to the Herald, a wharf funded by the Chinese regime has been built on the island and is large enough to allow warships to dock.
China has been providing Vanuatu with hundreds of millions of dollars for building its infrastructure. As a result, China accounts for nearly half of Vanuatu’s $440 million foreign debt, according to the Herald.
Early last year, Beijing also donated 14 military vehicles to Vanuatu.