Australia’s defence department says a Chinese fighter jet “dangerously” intercepted an Australian military surveillance plane in the South China Sea region in May.
In a statement on Sunday, the defence department said the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter during “routine maritime surveillance activity” in international airspace in the region on May 26.
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“The intercept resulted in a dangerous manoeuvre which posed a safety threat to the P-8 aircraft and its crew,” it said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters in Perth that his government had expressed concerns to China “through appropriate channels”.
There was no immediate comment from China’s embassy in Australia.
The report came days after the Canadian military accused Chinese warplanes of harassing its pilots during United Nations sanctions patrols along the border with North Korea to monitor evasions. Beijing has yet to comment on the Canadian allegations.
Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles told ABC television that during the May 26 incident over the South China Sea, the Chinese jet had flown very close in front of the RAAF aircraft.
It released a “bundle of chaff” containing small pieces of aluminium that were ingested into the Australian aircraft’s engine, he said.
“Quite obviously this is very dangerous,” he said.
Australia has previously joined the United States in stating that China’s claims around contested islands in the South China Sea do not comply with international law.
The Australian defence department said it had undertaken maritime surveillance in the region for decades and “does so in accordance with international law, exercising the right to freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace”.
Relations between Australia and China, who are major trading partners, have been strained recently over growing Chinese influence in the Pacific after China sought a regional security deal with Pacific Island nations.
Also in May, a Chinese intelligence ship was tracked off Australia’s west coast within 50 nautical miles of a sensitive defence facility, which is used by Australian, US, and allied submarines.
In February, China and Australia traded barbs over an incident in which Australia said one of its maritime patrol aircraft detected a laser directed at it from a People’s Liberation Army Navy vessel.