BEIJING -- Australia Sunday claimed that a Chinese fighter plane was carrying out dangerous maneuvers, threatening the safety one of its maritime surveillance aircrafts over South China Sea. The incident forced it to return to base.
Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister of Italy, stated that his government was concerned about the incident on May 26, which occurred in international airspace. The Defense Ministry claimed that the incident took place where a Chinese J-16 intercepted an P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane while it was routinely patrolling.
Richard Marles, Defense Minister, stated that the Chinese J-16 flew very near to the Australian plane and released flares as well as chaff which were ingested into the engines of Poseidon (a modified Boeing 737-800).
He told reporters in Melbourne that the J-16 "accelerated and cut across the nose" of the P-8. The J-16 then settled in front of it at a very close distance. "At that point, the J-16 released a bundle containing small pieces of aluminum, which was then ingested into its engine. This is quite obviously very dangerous.
He stated that the P-8 crew responded professionally to his request and returned the aircraft back to its base.
Sunday's official response from Beijing was not available.
These incidents are not uncommon. In April 2001, a collision between an American EP-3 surveillance aircraft and a Chinese Air Force jet resulted in the death and 10-day detention by China of the U.S. crew.
After Beijing placed trade restrictions and denied high-level exchanges as a response to Canberra's rules against foreign interference in its domestic political affairs, relations between Australia and China were poor for many years.
Australia and other countries have tried to stop Chinese inroads in the South Pacific. This includes Beijing signing a security agreement that China could use to station troops and ships in the archipelago. The archipelago is less than 2,000 km (1,200 mi) from Australia's coast.
The incident last month occurred amid an increase in aggressive behavior by China's military in border areas, at sea, and targeting planes, vessels, and land forces from India and Canada.
Australia claimed that a Chinese navy ship also fired a laser at its Poseidon surveillance aircraft in February. The laser illuminated the plane while it was flying over Australia's northern reaches and endangered the safety of the crew.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea and has been increasing pressure on other countries that claim parts of this strategic waterway. This has led to the construction of military bases on artificial islands, harassment of foreign fishing boats and military missions in international and air space.
In a statement earlier this year, Adm. John C. Aquilino, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander, stated that China had militarized at most three of its islands holdings. He also provided anti-ship and missile systems, laser jamming equipment and military aircraft.
Despite agreements to reduce tensions, the U.S. and its allies have repeatedly challenged Chinese claims with military exercises and patrols in the area.
Marles stated that "We are operating entirely within our rights...most of our trade traverses South China Sea." "This incident won't deter Australia to continue engaging in these activities, that are within our rights, international law to ensure that there is freedom to navigation in the South China Sea. It is fundamentally in our country's interest."