Turnbull asserts Australia 'perfect right' to transit South China Sea

However he advised reporters Australia comes with a "ideal directly in accordance with worldwide law" to practice the right of freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has asserted Australia's "perfect right" to sail through the South China Sea after it was revealed three warships faced a "robust" encounter with the Chinese military.

"All I can say to you is Australia asserts and practices its right of freedom of navigation throughout the world's oceans, including of course the South China Sea", Turnbull said.

Earlier this month, Beijing boasted of the largest-ever military exercises by the Chinese navy in the South China Sea.

The Australian Defence 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 Chinese "challenged" two Australian frigates and an oil replenishment ship this month as the Australian vessels were sailing to Vietnam, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported, citing anonymous defense officials.

Last year Turnbull proposed a new law to target and broaden the definition of foreign interference, after a wave of claims regarding China's influence campaigns in Australia.


Earlier, Australia's Defence Department said in a statement emailed to Reuters that its forces had "maintained a robust programme of worldwide engagement with countries in and around the South China Sea for decades".

"This includes bilateral and multilateral military exercises, port visits, maritime surveillance operations and ship transits", the department told the ABC.

"But if Australia has other motives, we hope it can see the trend in the South China Sea is stable and improving, and work together with China and other neighbouring countries for the peace and stability of the region". "The Chinese ships employed professional language in communicating with the Australian side, operated legally and according to regulation, professionally and safely", the statement said.

"In this context, you're talking about naval vessels on the world's oceans including the South China Sea, as is our flawless right in accordance with global law".

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has built several islands to bolster its position in the waterway where other governments have competing claims and which is one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

HMAS Toowoomba had departed from Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, while HMAS Anzac and HMAS Success travelled through the South China Sea after leaving the Philippines.


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