Australia infuriated after Chinese jets disrupt reconnaissance mission over South China Sea

The Australian Defense Ministry accused the Chinese fighter of “dangerous” cross-sectional activity, endangering Australia’s P-8 reconnaissance aircraft patrolling in the South China Sea.

The Australian Department of Defense announced today that an incident between the country’s P-8 reconnaissance plane and a Chinese J-16 fighter happened on May 26 in South China Sea airspace. Australia stated at the time that the P-8 was conducting “regular maritime surveillance operations” in regional international airspace.

The Australian Department of Defense stated that “the Chinese fighter engaged in risky manoeuvres, jeopardising the flying safety of the P-8 and its crew.”

The Chinese Embassy has not responded on this report.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stated that Canberra has addressed concerns with Beijing “through the right channels,” but provided no further specifics.

According to Defense Minister Richard Marles, the Chinese fighter plane flew quite near to the Australian Air Force P-8 before releasing a jamming cloud of several thin aluminium filaments. The P-8’s engine sucked up this aluminium thread.

Mr Marles told Military Cognizance, “It’s obviously a very dangerous position.”

Australia’s Defense Minister stressed that the country will continue to conduct authorised actions in the East Sea. The contact with the Chinese fighter “would not prevent Australia from continuing its activities in conformity with international law and rights, safeguarding freedom of passage and overflight over the East Sea, because this is in the land’s core interest.”

The Chinese military has taken “dangerous steps” against Australian personnel for the second time. On February 17, a Chinese military ship was accused by Canberra of beaming a laser at a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance jet flying over the Arafura Sea between Papua New Guinea and Australia.

Last month, Australia’s Ministry of Defense accused China of sending the Type-815-class surveillance ship Neptune to the country’s west coast. The ship was roughly 50 nautical miles away from the Harold E. Holt naval communications station in Exmouth. This communication station is a regular stop for submarines from Australia, the United States, and other countries.

Australia has voiced its opposition to China’s unilateral claims in the South China Sea. For decades, Australia has conducted maritime surveillance operations in the region “in strict compliance with international law, and in exercising freedom of navigation and overflight in the high seas,” according to the Department of Defense.

China-Australia relations have deteriorated in recent years, with Beijing accused of meddling in Canberra’s internal affairs and an investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The two countries are also strengthening geostrategic competition in the Pacific island country region, which has traditionally been regarded as Australia’s sphere of influence. Beijing is aggressively pressuring island states to strengthen connections in areas ranging from infrastructure investment to security cooperation.

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