Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said he was surprised by China’s decision to send a second intelligence ship to monitor U.S.-Australian military exercises off the country’s east coast, the Australian Special Services Broadcasting Service (SBS) reported on July 18. Earlier, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported that the Chinese naval intelligence vessel Uranus was heading to the waters near the U.S.-Australia TS21 exercise as it began this week.
Speaking to the media, Dutton said, “We were surprised by the presence of two ships, but clearly the Chinese have made a decision to have a greater presence (in the waters near the exercise).” He added, “We expect them to operate and act within the rules of international law.” Earlier, Dutton had confirmed that the Chinese Navy’s Auxiliary General Intelligence (AGI) vessel Uranus was approaching Australia’s east coast through the Torres Strait and that the Australian military had been monitoring it for several days. He said the ship’s arrival was “a repeat of what the Chinese have been doing for the last few years” and that both covert and overt activities were linked to previous Sabre Guard exercises. We fully anticipated the arrival of one of these ships during the exercise and planned for its presence, just as we have done in each iteration,” Darden said. The presence of a similar vessel did not impact the 2017 or 2019 ‘Bodyguard Saber’ exercises, and we do not believe it will impede this year’s exercise.”
In response to news of the presence of a second Chinese intelligence vessel, Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said it was less of a concern, noting that all countries have the right to use their vessels to monitor the exercise. “It’s important that everybody understands that we have rules and we expect every country to abide by those rules when it comes to freedom of navigation,” he said in an interview with the Sky News Australia program on Sunday. He said, “The same is true for our trade rules. There are trade rules and we expect every country to abide by those rules. That’s the best way you can keep our region free, open, peaceful and prosperous.” “Known as “Australia’s largest combat exercise,” the Australian side has also invited troops from Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United Kingdom to participate in this year’s exercise. Their activities will include amphibious landings, ground force exercises, urban operations as well as air and naval operations.
It is worth noting that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in an interview with Sydney’s Radio 2SM on Wednesday that he was “very wary” of the arrival of the Uranus. But he added that the Australian government has “no objection” to its presence in international waters. He said, “… We don’t raise any issues, just as we don’t think there should be any issues when (anyone), whether it’s us or the Americans or the British or the French or anyone else, sails through the South China Sea,” he said. Morrison said, “Of course, we watch them. We’re aware of that. They’re watching us, too.”
The report said Tehan is on a visit to South Korea, and his trip also includes stops in Singapore, Vietnam and Japan. He spoke of how “we’ve made it very clear that we want to see our trade diversify.” He said, “We think it’s important to make sure that as markets change, as the demand for our goods changes, we provide options for our exporters.” He stressed that Australia is doing all it can to keep the Indo-Pacific region free, open and resilient. “What we need to do in terms of the economy and trade is to ensure that we can maintain a rules-based system,” Tehan said. He continued, “That means development in our region that is not happening in other parts of the world and benefits all countries in this region.”