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Just a freedom of navigation trip

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This file photo shows two PLA Navy ships during a visit to India. Indian Navy/CC BY

This week the Australian media reported that a Chinese spy ship was detected in the waters off Queensland where the joint military drill Talisman Sabre between the US, New Zealand and Australia was being held.

The Australian Defense Force said in a statement that “the Chinese ship remained outside Australian territorial waters, but was inside the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone in the Coral Sea”.

“The vessel’s presence has not detracted from the exercise objectives. Australia respects the rights of all states to exercise freedom of navigation in international waters in accordance with international law.”

However, the Australian media were shrill on the issue, claiming the navigation by the Chinese spy ship was “aggressive” and “worrying”. While staunchly supporting US “freedom of navigation (FON)” operations in the South China Sea, Australian media outlets are startled at, and are unwilling to accept, the “sudden” appearance of the Chinese spy ship in their adjacent waters.

European public opinion also felt unease as Chinese warships steamed through the English Channel and entered the Baltic Sea for joint military drills with Russia. A sense of vigilance has arisen spontaneously among Nato countries.

While the US and its allies always conduct joint patrols unilaterally in the South China Sea, China’s naval vessels and spy ships have now started to appear in the waters significant to the West. Obviously, this is just a beginning of China’s future operations.

This shift will provide both sides more perspectives from which to view FON operations. For instance, Australians may gradually realise the seriousness of the South China Sea issue and thus understand Chinese vigilance, and Chinese may become more confident in the face of US patrols and provocations.

There’s an essential difference between a Chinese spy ship’s low-key presence in Australia’s adjacent waters and US warships sailing within 12 nautical miles of China’s Nansha and Xisha islands.

China-Russia joint drills in the Baltic Sea have brought about different military effects from US drills in the South China Sea as well. Reactions by the Australian and European public were surprising to the Chinese.

This teaches China that patrolling in Western waters may be an ideal response to Western interventions in the South China Sea issue. China should speed up the construction of its blue water navy.

In mid-July, American media reported that a Chinese spy ship sailed within 100 miles of Alaska to witness the recent test of a THAAD anti-ballistic missile system. The Pentagon is suspected to have used the news as an excuse to raise its budget.

In the future, Chinese warships should be able to go to waters off Guam, Hawaii, the Caribbean Sea or even to the San Diego base on the US West Coast. Such trips will be much more useful than only condemning US warships flexing their muscles in the South China Sea.

While China remains strategically moderate and has no intention to pursue maritime hegemony, it will not allow an aggressive US and its allies to push the frontline of their geopolitical machinations further into our court.

China will build more warships and meanwhile make full use of them. The PLA Navy has a mission to safeguard China’s national security.

Now it is time to explore new ways to carry out such a mission. Global Times

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