China denies 'alarmist' warship claims

File copy of Chinese warship
PM Scott Morrison confirmed the Chinese warship did not enter Australian waters. -AP

China has urged Australian politicians to stop being alarmist after the defence minister said a Chinese warship sighted off the West Australian coast was an "act of aggression".

Minister Peter Dutton on Friday claimed the ship, which had intelligence gathering capabilities, crossed into Australia's exclusive economic zone in an "aggressive act" from China. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison later clarified the ship was only sighted about 250 nautical miles off the WA coastline and it did not enter Australian waters.

But Mr Morrison reiterated the incident was unusual and Australia was "keeping a close eye" on China.

China's foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian responded to the claims, telling Reuters news agency China always followed international law and Australian politicians should "refrain from alarmism".

Meanwhile, Mr Dutton has attacked Labor leader Anthony Albanese amid reports the federal government delayed briefing the opposition on the US submarine deal.

Senior members of the Biden administration told the Morrison government four-and-half months before the announcement it would only pursue the AUKUS project if it had bipartisan support, Nine Newspapers reported on Saturday.

Federal Labor were only briefed on the deal the day before the September 16 announcement, Mr Albanese said, which was "extraordinary". 

"The fact the United States had made a request to Australia that was ignored for four-and-a-half months shows that this is a prime minister who always plays short-term politics (and) isn't interested in the national interest," Mr Albanese told reporters on Saturday. 

Mr Dutton hit back, saying it was the Labor leader who was playing politics.

"If Mr Albanese had a problem with the way in which the briefings were conducted and the way in which the information was provided to him, he's had ample raise it publicly, " Mr Dutton told reporters on Saturday.

"I think his comments today are quite reckless. If the United States had conditioned the AUKUS agreement on there being a briefing for the Australian Labor Party, then clearly the deal would not have gone ahead. So the United States didn't condition that.

"I think Mr Albanese frankly owes the Australian public an apology because he's mislead the public today."