THE AUSTRALIAN Navy was tailed by the Chinese military as they travelled towards Vietnam on the South Chinese Sea, near islands controversially claimed by Beijing.
The Australian Navy was on a three month tour of seven Asian nations with four warships, aircraft and more than 1,200 members of crew when the incident happened, Australia’s ABC News revealed today. Air Commodore Richard Owen said the Australian Group made two journeys through the South China Sea, where the Chinese military keeps a close watch over the contested waters. He said: “It is controversial, we were quite aware of that.
“We transited north and south through the South China Sea in international waters and we were engaged, as we normally are, by other navies.”
“We were sensitive to all navy interactions, we train for that, we are aware of how they will behave and how we behave, so I had no extra worries about it at all, I was confident in the capabilities of the Royal Australian Navy and the ADF [Austrailian Defence Force].”
Air Commodore Richard Owen added: “They will want to who we are, where we are going and what our intentions are, and the Chinese were no different – they were friendly, they were professional.”
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Last year China’s navy issued a warning to Australian navy vessels sailing through the South China Sea.
It appeared to have been a verbal radio call warning the vessels to stay out of waters that China controversially claims.
China’s defence ministry confirmed an exchange occurred on April 15, and said: “China’s ships used professional language to communicate with the Australian side.
“China’s operation is lawful and conforms to conventions. It is professional and safe.”
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At least six other countries with no claims in the South China Sea sovereignty dispute have sent ships into the waterway over the past three years.
They are Australia, France, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The South China Sea is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
An estimated £3.95trillion worth of goods passes through it each year.