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Allies launch military drills in Australia as Chinese spy ship watches

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Australia opened a large-scale joint military exercise with the United States and almost a dozen other nations on Friday, as a senior officer revealed that a Chinese spy ship was following the proceedings.

Officials formally launched the biennial Talisman Sabre exercise involving more than 30,000 troops from 13 nations, including Britain, Japan, Indonesia, Canada and France.

The drills come amid increasing concern about the threat posed to the region by China, which is not part of the military exercise.

Speaking at a news conference onboard the HMAS Canberra, Australia’s Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant General Greg Bilton told reporters that a Chinese spy ship had been spotted off the country’s northeastern coast the previous day.

“We reached out on Thursday and hailed that vessel in the Coral Sea,” he said.

“It’ll move down, I expect, and join the exercise or be in the location of the exercise again.

“They’ve done this for a number of years — we’re well-prepared for it.”

He said the Chinese response to Australia’s communication had been “courteous and in accordance with normal norms at sea”.

Australia and the United States have made it clear that they have their eyes on China’s activities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia has announced moves to develop military facilities in its northern region, while also saying that the US military presence there will increase in coming years.

A US “Indo-Pacific Strategy” last year announced efforts to work more closely with regional allies to “shape the region around China” to blunt Beijing’s influence.

Lieutenant General Bilton said Australian defence officials “haven’t reached out to the Chinese specifically” ahead of the military exercise.

He added: “This exercise is about us, it’s about our partner nations, building interoperability, trust and our ability to respond together to whatever crisis might exist in our region in the future.”

For two weeks, until August 4, troops will participate in field training, amphibious landings, ground force manoeuvres, air combat and maritime operations.

Most of this year’s exercise will take place in the northeastern Australian state of Queensland.


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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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