Australian Defence officials have revealed a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) plane was intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter jet over the South China Sea last month.
The incident happened five days after the Federal Election on May 26 during what Defence said was a “routine maritime surveillance activity” in international airspace.
A “dangerous manoeuvre” by the Chinese aircraft left the Australian crew on the P-8 maritime plane fearing for their safety.
“Defence 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,” it said in a statement.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese repeated the remarks from Defence during a press conference in Western Australia and has refused to comment further.
“I won’t be making further comment on it, other than to say that in the Australian Government’s view, in the Defence Department’s view, this was not safe, what occurred, and we’ve made appropriate representations to the Chinese government expressing our concern at this,” he said.
He was questioned if he was sending “mixed signals” as the statement could insist Australia viewed China as a rival instead of a partner.
“We have strategic competition in the region,” Mr Albanese said in response before he jets off to Jakarta to meet dignitaries alongside Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
“What we need to do is to make sure that we have competition, recognise that it’s there without catastrophe. And I certainly seek peaceful relations with all of our neighbours, recognising the challenges, though, which are there.”
He is expected to speak to Indonesia Prime Minister Joko Widodo in a bilateral leaders’ meeting about China’s growing influence in the Pacific region and discussions about his pledge of further aid and a special envoy for the region.
Months prior to the May intercept, a Chinese navy ship reportedly used a laser on an Australian defence P-8A Poseidon plane in February.
Defence said the crew reported a laser emanating from a People’s Liberation Army Navy vessel into the RAAF aircraft when it was sailing east through the Arafura Sea.
Then-prime minister Scott Morrison described the action as “an act of intimidation” on the part of Beijing.
“I can see it no other way than an act of intimidation, one that was unprovoked, unwarranted and Australia will never accept such acts of intimidation,” he said.
“It was a reckless and irresponsible act and it should not occur.
“We are raising those issues directly through the diplomatic and defence channels.”
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