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Canberra confirmed reports of a Chinese spy ship spotted off the Australian coast, with officials denouncing the action “alarming” while noting that Beijing was within its rights to navigate international waters.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison admitted that a Chinese surveillance vessel had spent some time near its country’s coast earlier this year, saying on Friday that the vessel highlighted a “Very serious situation” in the Indo-Pacific region, while adding that Beijing has not broken any maritime laws in the process.

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“I think the presence of the Chinese navy – of which we were aware, and they were watching us closely and we are watching them closely – the importance of that is to point out to Australians that there is a very serious situation in there. ‘Indo-Pacific’, Morrison told reporters.

They have every right to be where they are. We knew they were there. They may be there under international maritime law. But don’t think for a second that we weren’t watching them when they were looking to watch us.

Morrison also said he expects Beijing to grant his country the same latitude when sailing with its own ships in the disputed areas of the South China Sea, where competing territorial claims have given rise to disputes. long-standing tensions between China and a number of other regional states. .

The Daily Telegraph was the first to report the presence of the Chinese spy ship, which it said circled the coast for a three-week period between August and September.

READ MORE: Australia deploys troops to island hit by anti-China riots

Defense Minister Peter Dutton confirmed the timeline, telling media on Friday the ship remained outside Australian waters and did not break any laws. He later added, however, that the deployment was “alarming,” and said it was at odds with Beijing’s rhetoric on promoting peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

The high-level comments on the spy ship come amid mounting hostilities between China and Australia, with Canberra now considering a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics to be held in Beijing – although officials would wait for Washington’s decision before taking theirs. The discussion of a potential boycott was sparked by criticism of alleged human rights violations by China, especially against its Uyghur Muslim minority. In addition to the Olympics controversy, other tensions between Australia and China have been sparked by a long-standing trade dispute, which has seen China ban imports of Australian coal.

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