The fighter then released “a bundle of chaff,” which included small pieces of aluminum. Some of that chaff ended up in the engines of the surveillance plane.
“Obviously this is very dangerous,” Marles said.
The defense secretary said the crew responded professionally and returned the plane to base and all crew members were unharmed. He has instructed the head of the defense force and the ministry to express their concern about the incident to the Chinese authorities, in particular by emphasizing that the safety of the aircraft and crew has been compromised.
“The P-8’s activity is part of the maritime surveillance activity that has been undertaken by Australia in the South China Sea for decades — other countries are doing the same,” Marles said.
“I also want to make it very clear that this incident will not deter Australia from continuing with these activities, which are within our rights and international law, to ensure that there is freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, because that is fundamentally in the interest of our country.”
Defense said Australia has had maritime surveillance in the region for decades and obeyed international law “by exercising its right to freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace”.
The incident comes just three months after a Chinese naval vessel aimed a military-grade laser at another Australian surveillance aircraft in the Arafura Sea between the Northern Territory and Papua.
The February incident endangered the lives of the aircrew, the Defense Ministry said, which strongly condemned the “unprofessional and unsafe military conduct”.
Then Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he demanded answers from Beijing about the “act of intimidation”, but China’s foreign ministry responded back, saying that Australia was “maliciously” spreading false information.
This week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi ended his tour of the Pacific, ending in East Timor and Papua New Guinea after signing bilateral agreements with the Solomon Islands, among others.
Wang told media outlets including PNG’s ABC that a reset in the China-Australia relationship requires concrete action.
†[Our] Ties with Australia have run into difficulties in recent years. The crux of the problem lies in the fact that some political forces in Australia insist on treating China as an adversary rather than a partner, and portray China’s development as a threat rather than an opportunity.” he said.
“Such steps have led to a significant turnaround in Australia’s positive and pragmatic China policy that has been pursued for many years.”
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights of the day. Register here.