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

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A Chinese fighter plane it crashed in front of an Australian military plane over the South China Sea and released debris that was ingested into the engine, forcing the plane to return to base, the Australian Defense Ministry said Sunday.

The incident occurred on May 26, involving a P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter during routine patrol in international airspace. Australian Department of Defense She said.

FILE: In this undated file photo released by the Taiwan Ministry of Defense, a Chinese PLA J-16 fighter jet flies to an unknown 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 rockets and chaff that were ingested by the engines of the Poseidon, a converted Boeing 737-800.

“The J-16 … accelerated and cut off the nose of the P-8, settling in front of the P-8 at very close range,” Marles told reporters in Melbourne. “At that moment, he 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. Obviously, this is very dangerous.”

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

“The Defense has been carrying out maritime surveillance activities in the region for decades and does so in accordance with international law, exercising the right to freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and in airspace”, the The Defense Department said in a statement.

Relations between Australia and China have been deteriorating for years after Beijing imposed trade barriers and turned down high-level trade in response to Canberra enacting rules against foreign interference in its domestic policy.

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

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

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

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

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

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The United States and its allies have consistently contested Chinese claims by organizing military patrols and exercises in the area, provoking angry responses from Beijing despite agreements aimed at reducing tensions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.