The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-8A Poseidon was conducting routine surveillance in international airspace above the South China Sea on May 26 when the J-16 jet flew “very close”, set off flares and dropped chaff in its path.
Defence Minister Richard Marles said the federal government had raised its concerns over the “very dangerous” intercept with the Chinese government.
“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,” a Defence statement released this morning read.
“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 Australian aircraft returned to base and its crew was unharmed.
Marles said the Chinese jet had flown near the RAAF plane before releasing “small pieces of aluminium” into the air.
“What occurred was that the J-16 aircraft flew very close to the side of the P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft,” Marles said.
“In flying close to the side, 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.
“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.”
Marles said Australia was “operating completely within our rights and international law” and would continue to do so in the South China Sea.
“I want to make it also very clear that 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,” he said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had been briefed on the mid-air incident during the week.
“The Australian Government has raised our concerns about the incident with the Chinese government,” Albanese said in Perth before he flew to Indonesia today.
“The Department of Defence has, for many 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.
“We are concerned about this incident.
“We have expressed those concerns through appropriate channels.”
China recently shelved a sweeping trade and security agreement with 10 Pacific countries after some declined to sign.