Australia says plane had ‘right’ to watch Chinese navy ship in its waters

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media at the Melbourne Commonwealth Parliament Office in Melbourne, Australia February 11, 2022. Darrian Traynor/Pool via REUTERS

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SYDNEY, Feb 22 (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said an Australian surveillance plane was doing its job when it was “threatened” by a laser from a Chinese navy vessel, dismissing the claim from Beijing that the plane was approaching too close.

The P-8A Poseidon, a maritime patrol aircraft, detected a laser emanating from a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ship last Thursday, and Australia released photographs of two Chinese ships sailing near its northern coast.

On Tuesday, Australia’s Department of Defense said the plane dropped sonobuoys, which can help detect submarines, after the laser incident, and that the monitoring devices did not pose a hazard to shipping. .

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“Our surveillance planes have every right to be in our exclusive economic zone and closely monitor what people are doing,” Morrison told reporters.

“The fact that they were threatened is extremely disappointing.”

In Beijing, asked about Morrison’s comments and whether China could confirm a military-grade laser had been used, the Foreign Office said Australia had used reconnaissance aircraft to take ‘provocative actions’ against China many times.

“We strongly oppose this and urge the Australian side to reflect on themselves, not to spread false information and not to deliberately create trouble,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a briefing. regular press.

The Chinese missile destroyer and an amphibious transport dock were sailing east through the Arafura Sea between New Guinea and Australia, before crossing the narrow Torres Strait, according to the Australian Department of Health. Defense.

Beijing claims the Chinese vessels had a legal right to be in international waters, which Australia has not contested.

On Monday, China’s Defense Ministry said the surveillance plane dropped a sonobuoy near the Chinese ships and flew up to 4 km (2.5 miles) from the convoy, which it called “provocative and dangerous”. Read more

The Australian Department of Defense said the aircraft acted safely and the use of sonobuoys for maritime surveillance was standard practice.

“No sonobuoys were used until the PLA-N ship aimed its laser at the P-8A aircraft on February 17,” he said Tuesday.

“Some sonobuoys were used after the incident but were dropped into the water a significant distance in front of the PLA-N vessel.”

The devices collect passive acoustic data from ships and submarines, he added.

The plane was 7.7 km (4.8 miles) from the Chinese navy vessel at the time of the laser incident, he said, and the closest flight was 3.9 km away ( 2.4 miles), which Australia said was standard for a visual inspection of a vessel. .

“Australia expects all foreign vessels entering its maritime zones to comply with international law, in particular UNCLOS,” she said in the statement, referring to the United Nations Convention on the right of the sea.

On Tuesday, Morrison separately announced that Australia would spend A$804 million ($578 million) to buy drones and helicopters and set up mobile stations in Antarctica, an area it was to monitor. Read more

He said China did not share Australia’s objectives in Antarctica, 42% of which are claimed by Australia, and that Beijing wanted to exploit its resources.

“We need to keep an eye on Antarctica because there are others that have different goals than ours,” he said.

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Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Additional reporting by Martin Quin Pollard; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Clarence Fernandez

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