Australia says China intercepted military plane over South China Sea, forcing it to return to base

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A Chinese fighter jet careened in front of an Australian military plane over the South China Sea and released debris that were ingested into the engine, forcing the aircraft to return to base, Australia’s defense ministry said Sunday. 

The incident happened on May 26 involving a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft intercepted by a Chinese J- 16 fighter aircraft during routine patrol in international airspace, Australia’s Department of Defense said. 

FILE: In this undated file photo released by the Taiwan Ministry of Defense, a Chinese PLA J-16 fighter jet flies in an undisclosed location. 

FILE: In this undated file photo released by the Taiwan Ministry of Defense, a Chinese PLA J-16 fighter jet flies in an undisclosed location. 
(Taiwan Ministry of Defense via AP)

Defense Minister Richard Marles said the Chinese J-16 flew very close to the Australian plane and released flares and chaff that were ingested by the engines of the Poseidon, a converted Boeing 737-800. 

“The J-16 … accelerated and cut across the nose of the P-8, settling in front of the P-8 at very close distance,” Marles told reporters in Melbourne. “At that moment, it then released a bundle of chaff, which contains small pieces of aluminum, some of which were ingested into the engine of the P-8 aircraft. Quite obviously, this is very dangerous.”

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He said the crew of the P-8 responded professionally and returned the aircraft to its base. There was no official response Sunday from Beijing.

“Defense 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 Department of Defense said in a statement

Relations between Australia and China have been deteriorating for years after Beijing imposed trade barriers and refused high-level exchanges in response to Canberra enacting rules targeting foreign interference in its domestic politics. 

Chinese structures and buildings on the man-made Fiery Cross Reef at the disputed Spratlys group of islands in the South China Sea are seen on March 20, 2022. 

Chinese structures and buildings on the man-made Fiery Cross Reef at the disputed Spratlys group of islands in the South China Sea are seen on March 20, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Last month’s incident comes amid increasingly aggressive behavior by the Chinese military in border areas and at sea, targeting planes, ships and land forces from India, Canada, the United States, and the Philippines.

China claims the South China Sea virtually in its entirety and has been steadily ratcheting up pressure against other countries with claims to parts of the strategic waterway. That has included the construction of military facilities on artificial islands and the harassment of foreign fishing vessels, and military missions in the air and international sea.

Earlier this year, U.S. Indo-Pacific commander Adm. John C. Aquilino said China has fully militarized at least three of its island holdings, arming them with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment, and military aircraft.

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The U.S. and its allies have consistently challenged the Chinese claims by staging patrols and military exercises in the area, provoking angry responses from Beijing despite agreements aimed at reducing tensions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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