At a press conference on Sunday, Australian Prime Minister Albanese said that while a RAAF P-8 aircraft was doing a routine check in the South China Sea region on May 26, “exercising the right to freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace,” it was intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter aircraft, which flew very close next to the Australian military jet and then proceeded to release a “bundle of chaff, which contains small pieces of aluminum.”
Just for a bit of context, Australia and China have had relationship issues for some time now. The countries are at odds over a range of issues, such as trade, COVID origins and human rights violations accusations. And some experts are saying that this could be Beijing’s way of testing the newly sworn-in prime minister. Canada’s military also reported a similar incident last week.
Australia called the move a “dangerous maneuver,” saying that it views this situation as a safety threat and is now in contact with Beijing through “appropriate channels.”
“Defence advises that on 26 May 2022, a RAAF P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter aircraft during a routine maritime surveillance activity in international airspace in the South China Sea region,” wrote an Australian Defense statement. “The intercept resulted in a dangerous manoeuvre which posed a safety threat to the P-8 aircraft and its crew. The Australian Government has raised its concerns about the incident with the Chinese Government.”
“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,” the statement added.
Speaking about Australian-Chinese relations on June 3, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that in order “to improve China-Australia relations, there is no ‘auto-pilot’ mode. A reset requires concrete actions. This meets the aspirations of people in both countries and the trend of our time.”