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Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian was quizzed about the remarks at a press conference overnight.

“I would like to state that China always follows international law and common practice,” Zhao said.
Peter Dutton has described a Chinese warship off the coast of WA as an 'act of aggression'.
Peter Dutton has described a Chinese warship off the coast of WA as an ‘act of aggression’. (Hamish Hastie)

“The Australian politician concerned should view the situation with objectivity and calm, instead of making sensational comments aimed at fear-mongering.”

Yesterday Dutton said the “warship with intelligence-gathering capacity” was spotted close to a secretive naval base in Western Australia.

The PLA-N Dongdiao photographed off the coast of Western Australia.
The PLA-N Dongdiao photographed off the coast of Western Australia. (Department of Defence)

“It is obviously very strange that it has come this far south and it is hugging the coastline as it goes north, and its intention will be to collect as much electronic intelligence as it can,” he said.

“It is strange timing and without precedent.”

He described it as an “act of aggression”.

But earlier today Prime Minister Scott Morrison struck a more moderate tone.

The PLA-N Dongdiao is heading north towards Darwin.
The PLA-N Dongdiao is heading north towards Darwin. (Department of Defence)

“Freedom of navigation is permitted all around the world,” he said. 

“And nobody has made any suggestions that any rules were breached in relation to the international law of the sea.”

The ship has been identified by the Department of Defence as a PLA-N, Dongdiao Class Auxiliary Intelligence ship named Haiwangxing.

The path of the Chinese spy ship the PLA-N Dongdiao.
The path of the Chinese spy ship the PLA-N Dongdiao. (Department of Defence)

Haiwangxing entered Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone on the morning of May 6.

By May 8 it was 70 nautical miles away from the Harold E Holt Communication Station (HEHCS), north of Exmouth.

It turned north, and by May 11 it was 50 nautical miles from HEHCS. It then steamed north and by May 13 had been tracked off the port of Broome, thought to be heading towards Darwin.

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