A Chinese newspaper editorial has scolded Australia for being "very wary" of a Chinese spy ship making its way towards Queensland.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday Australia was tracking the ship amid concerns it was "watching us" as the nation begins its Talisman Sabre military exercises with the US.
"They're in an area where they're allowed to be and we know they're there and we're keeping a close eye on it," he told 2SM radio.
When asked if he was concerned, he said: "We wouldn't be watching them if we weren't."
"Of course we watch them. We're aware of that. And they're watching us," he added.
Australia blasted in scathing editorial
The editorial in China's mouthpiece The Global Times has mocked Australia following the prime minister's comments, saying the nation was "making a fuss".
"Chinese vessel sailing in international waters, not in Australia's territorial waters, touched a raw nerve in Australia," the editorial said.
"Australian politicians and media outlets are making a fuss of the Chinese 'surveillance' of the Talisman Sabre war games, the largest two-way training exercise between Australian and US forces, by the Chinese ship Tianwangxing."
The editorial also hit out at comments made by Liberal MP Dave Sharma, who said the vessel's presence "does not strike me as the act of a friendly nation", and those made by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who said China was "listening in".
"Seriously? It's not unusual for foreign ships to traverse international waters near Australia," the editorial said.
"Russia had vessels off the coast of Australia during the G20 summit in Brisbane. Chinese ships also appeared in international waters off the Coast of Queensland during the Talisman Sabre exercises in 2017 and 2019.
"Then-Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said in 2017 Australia did not regard the Chinese ship's presence as a provocative 'signal' by China. Why has it become a problem? Because Australia has blindly followed the US in the anti-China campaign."
Australia accused of 'playing the victim'
Relations have been tense between China and Australia after a call for an independent enquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.
The steep diplomatic decline has also been driven by the decision to ban a Chinese company from building Australia's 5G network.
The scathing editorial said Australia "has been playing the victim game" and is trying to stigmatise China as a "bully".
The editorial went on to say Australia was "demonising" China and portraying the nation as a "threat".
"The Chinese vessel is entitled to navigate international waters. Its ship hasn't entered Australia's territorial waters and is carrying out activities in accordance with international laws," The Global Times piece said.
The editorial added the Chinese ship had "no intention to provoke Australia".
"It's normal and reasonable for China and any other peace-loving country to pay attention to and learn about the war games," the editorial said of the Talisman Sabre war games that are taking place for the next fortnight.
"Canberra needs to understand, the activities of Chinese ships have come a new normal.
"Australia should learn to adapt to the new normal."
China's military activities have 'ramped up'
Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the Chinese operation was a repeat of previous years, where the People's Liberation Army conducted both covert and overt activities.
Mr Dutton said China's military activities had ramped up dramatically, which was partly why the joint exercises were so important.
"Talisman Sabre is not just about the collaboration between Australia and the United States, it's about our collaboration with near neighbours," he told reporters in Queensland.
"Our militaries working together in the region is more important than it has ever been."
Mr Morrison, who recently attended a major international summit, said the United Kingdom and other allies were very interested in how Australia was faring under the pressures applied by China.
"And they were very, very congratulatory about the strong stand we've taken for our sovereignty because free countries, when they stand together, are always stronger."
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.