China has accused Australia of being a “little bully”, firing back amid concerns about a dangerous incident involving a Chinese fighter jet and a RAAF plane.
On Sunday, the Australian Department of Defence revealed a “dangerous manoeuvre” and “safety threat” performed by a Chinese spy plane on May 26, during routine maritime surveillance by the Royal Australian Air Force over the contentious South China Sea.
Defence Minister Richard Marles described it as “very dangerous”.
He said the Chinese J-16 aircraft flew very close to the side of the Australian plane, where it released flares.
“The J-16 then accelerated and cut across the nose of the P-8, settling in front of the P-8 at very close distance,” he said in Melbourne.
“At that moment, it then released a bundle of chaff, which contains small pieces of aluminium, some of which were ingested into the engine of the P-8 aircraft. Quite obviously, this is very dangerous.”
He said the crew of the P-8 responded professionally and returned the aircraft to its base.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he could reveal little, although he confirmed his government had expressed its concerns to China through appropriate channels.
However, despite Mr Albanese’s hesitancy to comment, Beijing was already furious.
China’s state-affiliated media outlet The Global Times turned blame back on Australia on Monday, labelling the accusations “inappropriate and unwise”.
“Obviously, some pivotal details have been deliberately concealed by Australia,” the opinion piece read, listing questions about “crucial details” left out of the RAAF report.
“The Australian military has repeatedly groundlessly accused the Chinese People’s Liberation Army of conducting ‘unsafe and unprofessional’ operations, but why does it always come as loud and urgent but with little evidence?” it said.
“Canberra’s approach is inappropriate and unwise as China has never posed a threat to Australia.”
The Global Times highlighted an incident in February where Australia accused a Chinese navy vessel of aiming a laser at another RAAF plane. Then prime minister Scott Morrison blasted the move as “dangerous, unprofessional and reckless for a professional navy”.
The newspaper said the Chinese Ministry of National Defence responded to the February accusations with direct evidence the Australian aircraft was too close to Chinese vessels. “Australia immediately fell silent” after, it said.
“It has to be said that the Australian military has obviously become a ‘professional for blackmail’ habitually,” it said.
Beijing also took aim at the new Albanese government, calling on Canberra to take “actual actions” in improving China-Australia relations.
“At least one thing is clear: No one can act as Washington’s ‘goon’ while making a fortune from China. It just doesn’t work that way,” it said.
Australia says the RAAF flight in the South China Sea was part of routine maritime surveillance activities in the region that have been conducted for years. Mr Marles said it was in accordance with international law.
“Most of our trade traverses the South China Sea,” he said.
“This incident will not deter Australia from continuing to engage in these activities, which are within our rights and international law to assure that there is freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, because that is fundamentally in our nation’s interest.”
Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley said the former Morrison government had been “very strong on China”.
“Sometimes we were criticised for this … but it was an issue that we never took a backward step on,” she told Sky News.
“It’s important that we see exactly the same approach from the Prime Minister.”