Was it a confrontation on the high seas, or just a routine but unplanned interaction between warships sailing in international waters?To get more China breaking news, you can visit shine news official website.
There are varying accounts within defence circles over just how stern a recent encounter in the South China Sea was between the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and the People's Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N).
On Thursday the ABC revealed an Australian Defence Force Joint Task Group had traversed the hotly contested waters last week, en route to the Philippine Sea for training exercises with the US and Japanese navies.
The Defence Department still won't even formally confirm that the five Australian warships interacted with the Chinese military but has insisted that "unplanned interactions with foreign warships throughout the deployment were conducted in a safe and professional manner".
According to one senior official the Chinese were "exceedingly polite" as they reminded the Australians they were coming close to the Spratly Islands which have been heavily fortified by China in recent times.It's by no means the first time the ADF has been challenged by the Chinese in the area, but the encounter comes during a period of escalating security and diplomatic tensions between Australia and its largest economic partner.
Now Australia has dramatically raised the stakes in its already troubled relationship with China by backing the United States in formally declaring Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea to be illegal.
In a letter to the United Nations, Australia's permanent mission rejected the Chinese Communist Party's claims to disputed islands in the crucial trading waters, calling them "inconsistent" with international law.
Australian National University International law expert Professor Donald Rothwell believes the move is significant and will prompt a furious response from Beijing.
"I think what will be interesting to see is whether China will take a more assertive position in terms of physically challenging the rights of Australian warships in particular as they pass through the South China Sea," Professor Rothwell tells the ABC.
Richard McGregor, a senior fellow with The Lowy Institute, says the stakes are already high in the strategic and highly militarised corridor.
"You can absolutely be sure that any time Australian ships are in the South China Sea, they will be tracked by the Chinese," he told Radio National on Thursday.
"I don't think confrontation is the right word, but they will be hailed, they'll be asked what they are doing there and [asked] to explain themselves."