China says Australian helicopter ‘provoked’ response after near miss encounter with Chinese jet

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China said on Tuesday its military took steps to warn and alert an Australian aircraft after Australia blamed a Chinese fighter jet for endangering one of its military helicopters during an “unsafe” confrontation over the Yellow Sea.

The incident could create a new rift between the nations trying to rebuild ties following a 2020 low, when Canberra called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19, and Beijing responded with trade barriers.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said the Chinese air force J-10 jet dropped flares above and several hundred meters ahead of an Australian MH60R Seahawk helicopter on a routine flight on Saturday.

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No one was hurt in the incident, which happened during an operation to enforce sanctions against North Korea.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was “unacceptable” for Australian defense personnel to be put at risk in international airspace.

On Tuesday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the Australian aircraft deliberately flew within close range of China’s airspace in a “provocative move” that endangered maritime air security.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese gives an address to the Leaders’ Plenary during the 2024 ASEAN-Australia Special Summit at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre in Melbourne, Australia, on March 6, 2024. Albanese said it was unacceptable for China to put Australian defense personnel in danger after a Chinese fighter jet dropped flares near an Australian military helicopter. (Joel Carrett/Pool via Reuters/ File Photo)

“The Australian military aircraft flew near China’s airspace in a threatening way,” the spokesperson, Lin Jian, told a regular news briefing.

“The Chinese military took necessary measures at the scene to warn and alert the Australian side,” he said, adding that the situation was handled in a manner consistent with China’s law and regulations, and was professional and safe.

“China has lodged serious protests with the Australian side over its risky moves,” Lin said. “We urge the Australian side to immediately stop the provocations and hype to prevent misunderstanding and miscalculation.”

China has also been accused of unsafe behavior in the skies by other countries, including Canada and the United States.

Australia has also previously charged China with “unsafe and unprofessional” actions at sea.

In Sydney, Albanese told broadcaster Nine’s Today Show the Australian Defence Force personnel were “in international waters, international airspace,” as they worked to ensure that the U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea were enforced.

“They shouldn’t have been at any risk,” he said, adding that the Australian public expected an explanation from China about the incident, and Australia had made “very strong representations at every level to China”.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang is expected to visit Australia next month, he said, adding, “We will make our position clear as well in discussions.”

The helicopter, flying from destroyer HMAS Hobart, dodged the flares. The confrontation put the aircraft and those on board at risk, although no one was hurt, Australia’s defense department said in a separate statement.

The incident is the second in six months to mar what has otherwise been a growing rapprochement between the two countries after years of strained relations and trade disputes.

In November, Australia said a Chinese naval vessel injured some of its divers in Japanese waters using an underwater sonar. China denied it had used its sonar; however Australia rejected the explanation.

In 2022, Australia protested after a Chinese navy vessel pointed a laser at an Australian military aircraft close to Australia’s northern coast.

In a separate incident in 2022, Australia said a Chinese fighter aircraft dangerously intercepted an Australian military surveillance plane in the South China Sea, releasing a “bundle of chaff” with pieces of aluminum that were ingested into the Australian craft’s engine.

Liu Jianchao, head of the international department of the Chinese Communist Party, said during a visit to Australia in November the Australian navy’s movements in the South China Sea and East China Sea appeared to be an effort to contain China.

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Australia has rejected this, saying it respects the right of all states to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law.

China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. An international tribunal in 2016 said China’s expansive claim had no legal basis.

Chinese navy vessels have been tracked off Australia’s coast several times in recent years, including monitoring exercises with the U.S. military.



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