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Australia says Chinese fighter jet threatened plane over South China Sea

Australia said a Chinese J-16 fighter jet carried out dangerous manoeuvres which threatened the safety of one of its maritime surveillance planes over the South China Sea (Taiwan Ministry of Defense/AP)
Australia said a Chinese J-16 fighter jet carried out dangerous manoeuvres which threatened the safety of one of its maritime surveillance planes over the South China Sea (Taiwan Ministry of Defense/AP)

Australia said on Sunday that a Chinese fighter jet carried out dangerous manoeuvres which threatened the safety of one of its maritime surveillance planes over the South China Sea.

The incident in international airspace on May 26 saw a Chinese Air Force J-16 intercept a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft on routine patrol, the Defence Ministry said in a statement on its website.

The intercept resulted in a “dangerous” manoeuvre which “posed a safety threat to the P-8 aircraft and its crew”, the ministry said.

The Australian government has raised its concerns about the incident with the Chinese government, it added.

There was no official response from Beijing on Sunday over the reported incident.

Such incidents are not unprecedented. A collision between a US EP-3 surveillance plane and a Chinese naval air force jet in April 2001 resulted in the death of the Chinese pilot and the 10-day detention of the American air crew by China.

Philippines South China Sea
Chinese structures and buildings on the man-made Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys group of islands in the South China Sea (Aaron Favila/AP)

Relations between Australia and China have been poor for years after Beijing imposed trade barriers and refused high-level exchanges in response to Canberra enacting rules targeting foreign interference in its domestic politics.

Australia and others have also sought to block Chinese inroads into the South Pacific, including Beijing’s signing of a security agreement with the Solomon Islands that could result in it stationing troops and ships in the archipelago, which lies less than 1,200 miles (2,000km) from the Australian coast.

Last month’s incident came amid increasingly aggressive behaviour by the Chinese military in border areas and at sea targeting planes, ships and land forces from India, Canada, the United States and the Philippines.

In February Australia said a Chinese navy ship fired a laser at one of its P-8A Poseidons, illuminating the aircraft while in flight over Australia’s northern approaches and endangering the safety of the crew.

China claims the South China Sea virtually in its entirety and has been steadily ratcheting up pressure against other countries with claims to parts of the strategic waterway. That has included construction of military facilities on man-made islands and the harassment of foreign fishing vessels and military missions in the air and international sea.

Earlier this year, US Indo-Pacific commander Admiral John C Aquilino said China has fully militarised at least three of its island holdings, arming them with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment, and military aircraft.

The US and its allies have consistently challenged the Chinese claims by staging patrols and military exercises in the area, provoking angry responses from Beijing despite agreements aimed at reducing tensions.

Australia has “for decades undertaken maritime surveillance activities in the region and does so in accordance with international law, exercising the right to freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace”. the ministry said.

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