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Sunday, 29 April, 2001, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Stand-off in Taiwan Strait
Chinese warship
The dispute follows the China-US row over spy plane
By Taiwan Correspondent Damian Grammaticas

Australia has confirmed that a Chinese warship challenged a flotilla of three Australian navy ships in the Taiwan Strait earlier this month.

The incident occurred about two weeks after a Chinese fighter jet collided with an American spy plane over the South China Sea, sparking the current diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Washington.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard
Prime Minister John Howard : "No over-reaction"
Reports say two Australian frigates and a supply ship were heading from exercises in South Korea to Hong Kong.

As they passed through the Taiwan Strait, a Chinese naval vessel radioed a challenge that they were in China's territorial waters.

The Australian vessels apparently declined to change course, saying they were exercising their right to free navigation in accordance with the laws of the sea.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the warships were in international waters and were conducting themselves according to international law at the time.

At the same time, he stressed that the incident should be kept in perspective.

Territorial waters

Australia, he said, would not be overreacting to it, adding there had been a long-standing difference between China's interpretation of what international law allowed in such situations and the interpretations held by other countries.

Under maritime law, territorial waters extend almost 20km out to sea, but nations have economic rights up to more than 300km.

Beijing has been more assertive about its economic zone since the spy plane incident.

It has also protested about remarks made by Mr Howard last week.

When President George W Bush said that the United States would do all it took to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack on the island, Mr Howard called on all sides to exercise calm and restraint.

He added he was sure China understood America's position in relation to Taiwan because it was a long-held one that was simply being restated by a new President.

China though was concerned that the comments went further than any previous American commitment to Taiwan, and said Mr Howard's remarks were inappropriate and confused right and wrong.

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See also:

25 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Bush talks tough over Taiwan
25 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
China steps up arms protest
17 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: US-China military rivalry
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