Australia has accused the Chinese military of “dangerous maneuvering” after one of its surveillance planes was intercepted in the South China Sea just days after Anthony Albanese was elected prime minister.
The Australian Department of Defense said a Chinese J-16 fighter intercepted a P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft during routine surveillance in international waters on May 26.
“The interception resulted in a dangerous maneuver that posed a threat to the safety of the P-8 aircraft and its crew,” the department added.
The incident came five days after an Australian election in which relations with China featured prominently after three years of tension under former Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Albanese has maintained a hard line on China since taking office, stepping up efforts to counter its spread in the Pacific and calling for an end to Beijing’s punitive tariffs on Australian goods.
The prime minister told reporters on Sunday that the interception was “unsafe” and that his government had complained to China. “We have made appropriate representations to the Chinese government to express our concern about this,” he said.
Euan Graham, senior researcher for Asia-Pacific security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, said: “This is not the first time Australian planes have been overflown. [the] South China Sea, but a good sign [the] The Australian Department of Defense is becoming more transparent about this.
The meeting is the latest in a series of flashpoints between Australia and China. In February, a Chinese navy ship used a laser against a surveillance plane off the northern coast of Australia in what Morrison called an unprovoked “act of intimidation”.
Peter Dutton, the former defense minister who replaced Morrison as leader of Australia’s Liberal Conservative Party, also revealed on the eve of the election that a Chinese surveillance vessel came within 50 nautical miles of Australia. a naval communications base near the western tip of the country. The People’s Liberation Army vessel was in international waters, but Dutton said it was “unusual” for a Chinese vessel to head so far south and described it as an “act of assault “.
Xiao Qian, China’s ambassador to Australia, called for an easing of tensions between the two countries in elections that culminated this year when Dutton told Australians to “prepare for war”.
Albanese, who appointed deputy Labor Party leader Richard Marles as defense minister, instead spoke of ‘strategic competition’ in the Indo-Pacific region as he ponders how to manage geopolitical tensions with the larger Australia’s trading partner.