Australia and Canada said Chinese jets performed dangerous moves on their military planes in recent encounters over the sea. Any mistake could have terrible consequences.
It’s not strange for rival countries to send ships and aircraft to international waters and airspace to show strength and send signals, such as on a drill or monitoring mission.
But Australia and Canada both said the Chinese jets’ actions posed a serious danger last month and went beyond conventional practice.
Australian military said a Chinese J-16 fighter intercepted one of its P-8 aircraft while it was conducting routine surveillance in the South China Sea. Australia said the Chinese aircraft had a maneuver that posed a safety threat.
Australia said the Chinese plane fired flares, then cut in front of the aircraft. It released chaff containing metal used to throw off missiles, which Richard Marles, Australia’s defense minister, said is very dangerous.
China said the Australian jet entered the Paracel Islands airspace and refused to leave after warning. The Paracels are a Chinese-held archipelago in the South China Sea that Vietnam and Taiwan also claim. China calls this the Xisha Islands.
The China conflict was also ignited with Canada.
Meanwhile, Canada said while its patrol jet helped enforce the United Nations’s sanctions on North Korea, it had a few troubling encounters with Chinese jets in international airspace.
Such work typically involves long flights to monitor illicit trade in North Korea. The isolated country might find a way to buy oil against UN restrictions by secret fuel transfers at sea.
In a statement last week, the Canadian military said that its crew had to quickly change their flight path to “avoid a potential collision with the intercepting aircraft.” And at times, Chinese planes flew so close to the Canadian ones as they tried to divert Canadian aircraft from their flight path. So close to the point that the crew was [quote] “very clearly visible.”[end quote]
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called Beijing’s actions “irresponsible and provocative,” not respecting UN sanctions on North Korea.
John Blaxland, a professor of security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University, noted that China is a member of the UN Security Council. The country indeed supports the UN sanctions that Canada was helping to enforce. He called China’s act of harassing Canadian surveillance flights a double standard.
On the other hand, China accused Canada of using the UN sanction to monitor China.
Professor Blaxland said such an incident could kick start a broader conflict.
He said, “There are split-second differences between this being a passing headline and this being a major incident with enduring international ramifications.”
Such events have happened before. In 2001, a Chinese fighter jet collided with a U.S. Navy surveillance plane over the South China Sea. The Chinese pilot was killed, and the U.S. jet was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island.
Only after the U.S. conducted extensive negotiations and released a letter apologizing for the pilot’s death did China release the crew.
The incident has become a tool for extensive official propaganda in China. The pilot, Wang Wei, was given the title “Guardian of Territorial Airspace and Waters,” and the date of his death, April 1, is still commemorated.