Australia said on Sunday that a Chinese fighter jet carried out dangerous maneuvers that threatened the safety of one of its maritime surveillance planes over the South China Sea and forced it to return to its base.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government expressed its worry in China for the May 26 incident, which the Department of Defense says occurred in international airspace, where a Chinese J-16 intercepted a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft during a routine patrol.
Defense Minister Richard Marles said that the Chinese J-16 flew very close to the Australian aircraft and launched flares and chaff that were ingested by the engines of the Poseidon, a converted Boeing 737-800.
“The J-16 … sped up and clipped the nose of the P-8, settling in front of the P-8 at a very close distance”he told reporters in Melbourne. “At that moment he dropped a bale of straw, containing small pieces of aluminum, some of which were ingested into the engine of the P-8 aircraft. Obviously, this is very dangerous.
He said the P-8 crew responded professionally and returned the plane to base.
There was no official response Sunday from Beijing.
Such incidents are unprecedented.
Relations between Australia and China have been poor for years after Beijing imposed trade barriers and spurned high-level exchanges in response to the enactment of Canberra rules targeting foreign interference in its domestic politics.
Australia and others have also sought to block Chinese incursions into the South Pacific, including Beijing’s signing of a security deal with the Solomon Islands that could see China station troops and ships in the archipelago.which is less than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from the Australian coast.
Last month’s incident comes amid increasingly aggressive behavior by the Chinese military in border areas and at sea, targeting planes, ships and ground forces from India, Canada, the United States. United States and the Philippines.
In February, Australia said a Chinese navy vessel also fired a laser at one of its Poseidon surveillance planes, igniting it as it flew over Australia’s northern approaches and highlighting endanger the safety of the crew.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea and has steadily increased pressure against other countries with claims to parts of the strategic waterway. This includes building military installations on artificial islands and harassing foreign fishing vessels and military missions in the international air and sea.
Earlier this year, US Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral John C. Aquilino said that China has fully militarized at least three of its island possessions, arming them with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment and military aircraft.
The United States and its allies have consistently denounced Chinese claims by conducting patrols and military exercises in the region, prompting angry reactions from Beijing despite agreements aimed at defusing tensions.
“We operate entirely within our rights…most of our trade goes through the South China Sea,” Marles said. “This incident will not prevent Australia from continuing to engage in these activities, which are within our rights and under international law to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, as it is fundamentally in the interest of our nation.”
(with information from AP)