Chinese fighter jet’s actions near Australian aircraft ‘very dangerous’, deputy PM says

Defence reports J-16 jet released ‘chaff’ including aluminium shards in front of Australian flight in South China Sea region

Australia has complained to China over its interception of a maritime surveillance flight in international airspace in the South China Sea region, which the deputy prime minister labelled “very dangerous”.

The defence department has revealed the interception of a “routine maritime surveillance activity” in a statement on Sunday, claiming it resulted in a “dangerous manoeuvre” that risked the safety of the Australian aircraft and its crew.

The incident on 26 May, just five days after the federal election, comes at a crucial juncture in Australia’s relationship with China, as Labor’s election provides a circuit-breaker to escalating rhetoric, although no substantial reset in policy has occurred.

Defence advised that “a RAAF P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter aircraft during a routine maritime surveillance activity in international airspace in the South China Sea region”.

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

“The Australian government has raised its concerns about the incident with the Chinese government.”

The defence minister, Richard Marles, told reporters in Geelong the Chinese aircraft “flew very close to the side of the [Australia] P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft” then “released flares”.

“The J-16 then accelerated and cut across the nose of the P-8, settling in front of the P-8 at very close distance.”

“At that moment, it then released a bundle of chaff, which contains small pieces of aluminium, some of which were ingested into the engine of the P-8 aircraft. Quite obviously, this is very dangerous.”

Defence noted that it 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”.

Sign up to receive an email with the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning

In 2016 a UN tribunal overwhelmingly rejected China’s claims to ownership of the South China Sea. Australia has pledged to increase defence cooperation with the US in the South China Sea, while America has called on it to expand its commitment to freedom of navigation operations.

In February the defence department complained the lives of Australian Defence Force personnel could have been endangered after an aircraft detected a laser emanating from a Chinese ship.

The P-8A Poseidon detected a laser illuminating the aircraft while in flight over Australia’s northern approaches in the Arafura Sea, a move interpreted as linked to China’s displeasure about patrols of the South China Sea.

One week out from the election, the former defence minister Peter Dutton labelled the presence of a Chinese spy ship off the coast of Western Australia “an aggressive act” – despite the fact it was in Australia’s exclusive economic zone, not its territorial sea.

In response to a similar incident in November, Scott Morrison said China had “every right to be there under international maritime law, just like we have every right to be in the South China Sea”.


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘A dangerous act’: how a Chinese fighter jet intercepted an RAAF aircraft and what happens next
Government says PLA J-16 forced Australian P-8 on routine surveillance into a dangerous manoeuvre over South China Sea

Daniel Hurst Foreign affairs and defence correspondent

06, Jun, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
‘We don’t have limitless resources’: Australian government prepared to scale back defence projects
While Labor has committed to an increase in defence spending, Richard Marles refused to rule out building first nuclear-powered submarines offshore

Daniel Hurst Foreign affairs and defence correspondent

23, Jan, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Australian military to continue patrolling South China Sea as Beijing warns Taiwan independence ‘means war’
Australia ‘monitoring developments as Taiwan reports an increase in Chinese aircraft in its defence zone

Daniel Hurst

29, Jan, 2021 @7:05 AM

Article image
South China Sea: UK could send aircraft carrier to back Australian vessels
Australian and British ministers hold talks amid rising tension over Beijing’s militarisation in disputed waters

Severin Carrell Scotland editor

21, Jul, 2018 @1:01 AM

Article image
South China Sea: Australian warships encounter Chinese navy in disputed waters
Canberra downplays the ‘unplanned interactions’ amid ongoing diplomatic tensions between two countries

Daniel Hurst

23, Jul, 2020 @4:44 AM

Article image
What happened when a Chinese ship shone a laser at an Australian plane – and why does it matter?
With the stakes rising and an election looming, Beijing’s apparent escalation must be handled firmly but delicately

John Blaxland for the Conversation

21, Feb, 2022 @1:07 AM

Article image
Australian navy pilots hit with lasers during South China Sea military exercise
ANU expert questions if beams came from fishing boats that are part of China’s maritime militia

Lisa Martin

29, May, 2019 @2:50 AM

Article image
Coalition under renewed pressure to send Australian military to South China Sea
Labor says countries like Australia should ‘demonstrate that they are not prepared to be bullied by China’ by conducting a freedom-of-navigation exercise near disputed islands

Daniel Hurst Political correspondent

19, Feb, 2016 @7:19 AM

Article image
Australia 'pretending' to stand up to China over disputed islands, Labor says
Defence spokesman Stephen Conroy says Australian forces are not authorised to go within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands in the South China Sea

Paul Karp

12, Jul, 2016 @11:56 PM

Article image
Australia to acquire long-range missiles as PM warns of dangerous post-Covid-19 world
Scott Morrison will outline a more muscular defence posture in an increasingly contested Indo-Pacific region

Daniel Hurst

30, Jun, 2020 @12:30 PM