China challenged Australian warships en route to Vietnam: Australian media

By Reuters, VnExpress   April 19, 2018 | 06:46 pm PT
China challenged Australian warships en route to Vietnam: Australian media
An Australian Navy ship docks in Saigon Port in Ho Chi Minh City on April 19, 2018. Photo by Australian embassy in Hanoi
The three ships arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday as part of a three-month deployment in Southeast Asia.

Australian warships were challenged by the Chinese military in South China Sea earlier this month, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported on Friday, citing Australian defense officials.

The Australian Defense Department confirmed that three ships had recently traveled to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam but declined to comment on “operational details related to ships transiting the South China Sea.”

The ABC cited one official saying the exchanges with the Chinese navy were polite but “robust.”

“The Australian Defense Force has maintained a robust program of international engagement with countries in and around the South China Sea for decades,” the Defense Department said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

China recently completed a massive military drill in the South China Sea, where its claims are hotly disputed by Vietnam as well as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. The waterway is known as the East Sea in Vietnam.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in London for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, also declined to confirm the interaction between the Australian warships and the Chinese military, Fairfax media reported.

“As they have done for many decades, Australian vessels and aircraft will continue to exercise rights under international law to freedom of navigation and overflight, including in the South China Sea,” the Defense Department said.

China’s construction of islands and military facilities in the waterway, through which some $3 trillion in trade passes annually, has sparked concerns Beijing is seeking to restrict free movement and extend its strategic reach.

The United States has conducted “freedom of navigation patrols” through the waters, stoking tensions with China which says it will protect its sovereignty.

The Australian navy ships Anzac, Toowoomba and Success are on a three-month deployment in Southeast Asia, which will involve exercises with a number of countries in the region, the Defense Department said in a separate statement on April 17.

They arrived at Saigon Port in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday and are scheduled to stay until Sunday. The crews will meet with officers and sailors from the Vietnamese People’s Navy and engage in several sports activities and visits to orphans and disabled children.

The Toowoomba sailed to Vietnam from Malaysia, while the other two Australian warships went through the waters from Subic Bay in the Philippines.

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