MELBOURNE • Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asserted his country’s right to conduct freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea after a media report said three Australian navy warships had been challenged by Chinese forces.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp said the People’s Liberation Army, conducting its largest ever naval exercises in the region earlier this month, challenged the warships as they were transiting toward Vietnam for a goodwill visit.
It cited one official saying the exchanges with the Chinese navy were polite but “robust”.
China’s Defence Ministry yesterday confirmed the “encounter” happened on Sunday but said the reports in Australian media “did not accord with the facts”. It said China acted professionally and lawfully.
“The Chinese side’s ships used professional language to communicate with the Australian side, and their operations were lawful, in compliance, professional and safe,” its statement said.
China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea are hotly disputed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.