However, Australian warships regularly sail through international waters and conduct exercises in the South China Sea, increasing their activity in the region in recent years.
The last major show of strength was in October, when the Australian frigate HMAS Arunta joined US and Japanese destroyers to conduct trilateral exercises.
In July, Defence confirmed that five Australian ships including landing helicopter dock HMAS Canberra, air warfare destroyer HMAS Hobart and frigates HMAS Arunta and HMAS Stuart, travelling together on their way to naval exercises in Hawaii were challenged as they sailed near the disputed Spratly Islands.
“Unplanned interactions with foreign warships throughout the deployment were conducted in a safe and professional manner,” Defence said in a statement.
As relations between Australia and China plumb new depths, the Global Times newspaper published an editorial labelling Australia a “warhound of the US” and issued a threat to the safety of Australian ships.
“Particularly, its warships must not come to China’s coastal areas to flex muscles, or else it will swallow the bitter pills,” the editorial said.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings said the Global Times used to be regarded as the “angry younger brother” of Chinese media and it did not have to be taken seriously.
“The problem now is it sounds exactly like the spokespeople from the foreign ministry,” he said.
“The whole of the Chinese system is swinging to this aggressive nationalism, so from a defence point of view we have to take it seriously.
“This would not have been invented in a newspaper office, it would have had party consideration.”
Mr Jennings said Australia should rally like-minded countries to defend the principle of freedom of navigation in light of China’s threat and make it an international issue.
“We should be talking to any country that has the wherewithal and capability to send ships into the region that they should do so,” he said.
Lowy Institute China analyst Richard McGregor echoed Mr Jennings.
“People tend to dismiss the Global Times as the London Sun of Chinese politics, but the truth is Chinese wolf-warrior diplomacy is kind of embodied in Global Times commentary,” he said.
“I don’t take it at face value but wouldn’t lightly dismiss it.”

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