China’s spy claim as flare fight escalates

Chinese Charm
A new diplomatic row is heating up between China and Australia over a military incident. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Beijing has accused Australia of spying on naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, changing its tune on the incident that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described as “unacceptable and unprofessional”.

A Chinese fighter jet dropped flares in front of an Australian seahawk helicopter operating off air warfare destroyer HMAS Hobart, while it was enforcing sanction against North Korea.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Australia of being “provocative” but in a later statement, the Ministry of Defence had a different view.

HMAS Hobart
A navy MH-60R helicopter operating in the Yellow Sea had flares dropped in front of it and above it by a Chinese fighter jet.

“A Chinese naval fleet conducted training in relevant waters of China’s Yellow Sea … during which the Australian guided missile destroyer HMAS Hobart dispatched a ship-borne helicopter three times to conduct close-in reconnaissance and disturb the normal training activities of the Chinese side,” Senior Colonel Zhang Xiaogang said.

“Chinese troops sent a vocal warning to the Australian helicopter and conducted legitimate, reasonable, professional, and safe operations to expel it, which are fully in line with the international law and international practice.”

Defence Minister Richard Marles office was contacted for comment.

Earlier, Mr Albanese was questioned about the incident and while he was not asked about the allegation Australia spied, he stood by Australia’s account.

He said China’s explanation “does not satisfy any change to the position we’ve taken”.

“The wording they’ve used by saying they were ‘near Chinese airspace’ is confirmation, that there’s no question the ADF personnel were both in international waters and in international airspace and undertaking work on behalf of the international community in enforcing the UN sanctions against North Korea,” Mr Albanese said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has vowed to complain directly to Chinese Premier Li Qiang next month. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard

On Tuesday, The Prime Minister vowed to protest the “unprofessional and unacceptable” conduct with Chinese Premier Li Qiang when he visits Australia next month.

“Australian Defence Force personnel were going about their job,” he said.

“That is part of Australia being good global citizens, and Australian Defence Force personnel should not be at risk whilst they’re doing that.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton called on Mr Albanese to go further, and “pick the phone up and convey Australia’s “disgust and dismay” directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I fear that an Australian Defence Force member or members are going to lose their lives at some point because there will be an error in judgement by one of the fighter pilots or one of the naval personnel from the China side,” Mr Dutton said.

“They have put Australian lives at risk and that is completely unacceptable.”

The opposition wants Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to personally call China's President Xi Jinping over the incident. Picture: Twitter
The opposition wants Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to personally call China's President Xi Jinping over the incident. Picture: Twitter