Australian warships have encountered China’s navy in the disputed South China Sea at a time of heightened diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
The Australian government has played down the encounter – believed to have occurred last week – saying on Thursday that “all interactions with foreign warships throughout the deployment were conducted in a safe and professional manner”.
The ABC first reported that Australian warships had encountered the Chinese navy during a voyage that included travel close to the Spratly Islands, although it was believed the Australian ships did not go within 12 nautical miles of the contested islands.
A defence spokesperson confirmed that five Australian warships – HMAS Canberra, Hobart, Stuart, Arunta and Sirius – “transited the South China Sea independently” from 14-18 July, including near the Spratly Islands. They were bound for Hawaii to join a US-led military exercise known as Rimpac.