China's Defense Ministry said in a statement on Friday that Australian media reports that Chinese naval vessels had recently challenged Australian warships in the South China Sea "did not accord with the facts."
"The Chinese ships used professional language to communicate with the Australians, and their operations were lawful, in compliance [with international norms], professional and safe," the ministry said, adding that the "encounter" took place last Sunday.
Speaking at a news briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, for her part, said that there will be "no problem whatsoever" for Australia if it is "referring to freedom of navigation in accordance with international laws."
"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 neighboring countries for the peace and stability of the region," Hua underscored.
Confirming that its three warships recently traveled to Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, the Australian Defense Department has refused to comment on "operational details related to the ships transiting the South China Sea."
Australia's ABC news agency in turn cited a source as saying that the exchanges between the two sides' naval vessels were polite yet "robust."
The Australian Defense Department was earlier quoted by Reuters as saying that "as they have done for many decades, Australian vessels and aircraft will continue to exercise rights under international law to freedom of navigation and overflight, including in the South China Sea."
In November 2017, Australia published its first detailed policy paper on national interests and diplomacy since 2003. In the document, Canberra specifically stressed that it was "particularly concerned by the unprecedented pace and scale of China's activities" in the South China Sea.
"So we would like to advise Australia to abide by its commitment and stop making irresponsible remarks on the South China Sea issue," Lu said.
A number of countries in the region including the Philippines and China are participating in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea, where ships bearing commodities worth of trillions of dollars pass.
Apart from Beijing and Manila, lodging territorial claims over the sea are Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, Cambodia and Singapore.