A Dongdiao-class electronic surveillance ship (Type 815) from the People's Liberation Army was seen in the waters off Queensland during the Talisman Saber 2017 drills, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Earlier, North American Aerospace Defense Command confirmed that a Chinese intelligence-gathering vehicle was seen off the coast of Alaska last week, possibly to monitor tests of the US's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD).
In his commentary for RIA Novosti, Russian military expert Ilya Plekhanov noted that "ironically, the Talisman Saber 2017 exercises, which involved 30,000 US and Australian troops, were aimed to signal to other countries bordering the Pacific that the United States possesses a [strong] military potential in this part of the world."
"The appearance of the Chinese intelligence-gathering ship, which monitored channels of communication between Americans and Australians off Queensland, became an unpleasant surprise for the participants of the Talisman Saber 2017 drills. Rather than convincing the region of the power of Washington' allies, it indicated China's growing naval capabilities," Plekhanov pointed out.
According to US data, at least six reconnaissance ships of the 815 class are currently in service with the Chinese Navy, with the newest such vessel entering service in January 2017.
Plekhanov recalled in this regard that apart from THAAD, China also keeps a watchful eye on the US radar AN/TPY-2 radar, which Beijing believes is capable of monitoring China's skies and alerting the Pentagon when Chinese missiles are launched.
"US military experts today are concerned about the appearance of Chinese reconnaissance ships in the World Ocean. Until recently, only the navies of the US and Russia were able to carry out such major missions," Plekhanov noted.
He recalled that in February 2017, the Russian reconnaissance ship Viktor Leonov was spotted 30 miles from a submarine base in the US state of Connecticut. It immediately grabbed local headlines, with US authorities saying that the Viktor Leonov did not pose a threat to the security of the state.
"In March, the Viktor Leonov appeared 20 miles from another US submarine base in Georgia," Plekhanov wrote, referring to Russian reconnaissance ships implementing similar missions along the US coast in 2015 and 2014.
In 2016, a Russian intelligence-gathering vessel monitored the world's largest naval exercises: Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in Hawaii. According to mainstream media, participating countries at the time "took the necessary measures" to prevent the Russian ship from having access to valuable information during its radio-electronic monitoring mission.
Right now, a Russian reconnaissance ship is closely observing the British destroyer HMS Duncan and the Turkish frigate Yildirim off the coast of Ukraine, where NATO's Breeze 17 naval drills are being held.
He added that "on the one hand, China acts according to the norms of international maritime law and Chinese [reconnaissance] ships do not enter foreign territorial waters, but on the other – Beijing expresses discontent about the naval ships of other countries passing near the disputed territories [Beijing claims] in the South China Sea.
"Apparently, the US monopoly on conducting naval radio electronic reconnaissance in the World Ocean has come to an end as Russia and China are becoming full-fledged players in this field. The Americans will have to resign themselves to the fact that the launches of their missiles, as well as their naval bases and naval drills will now be monitored by Russia and China from the sea," Plekhanov concluded.