China retaliates after Australia's 'dangerous' fighter plane claim

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Chinese state media has hit out at Australia after the Department of Defence released alarming details about about an incident involving an Australian maritime surveillance aircraft and a Chinese fighter plane.

Defence said the maritime surveillance aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter jet on May 26.

The J-16 aircraft flew very close to the side of the Australian plane, where it released flares, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese branded the act "dangerous", threatening the lives of those onboard.

Now, China has hit back at Australia in a scathing Global Times editorial piece, claiming Australia has "concealed" details about the incident.

The editorial questioned where the incident occurred in the South China Sea and how far it was from the Chinese islands and reefs, along with the purpose of the Australian aircraft's trip to the region.

 Chinese President Xi Jinping enters the hall during the welcoming ceremony at the Grand Kremlin Palace on June 5, 2019 in Moscow, Russia.
Australia has had a strained relationship with China over the past few years. Source: Getty Images

In the Department of Defence's initial statement released on Sunday, it said Australia has undertaken maritime surveillance activities "for decades" and does so "in accordance with international law, exercising the right to freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace".

"Why didn't Australia take the initiative to announce it?" the Global Times editorial asked.

"The Australian military has repeatedly groundlessly accused the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) of conducting 'unsafe and unprofessional' operations, but why does it always come as loud and urgent but with little evidence?"

The Global Times said this incident was "reminiscent" of when Australia claimed one of China's naval vessels pointed a laser at an Australian surveillance aircraft in February.

Australia then "fell silent" when China released images of the incident and then claimed the Australian military has become a "professional for blackmail", the editorial said.

There were also claims that Australia has provoked China in recent years – under Scott Morrison's leadership and on behalf of the US – and that Australia was putting on a show and said Australia's efforts look more like a performance report for Washington.

The RAAF P-8 aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter plane in the South China Sea on May 26 (illustrative purposes only). Source: AAP
The RAAF P-8 aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter plane in the South China Sea on May 26 (illustrative purposes only). Source: AAP

"Canberra wants to become Washington's 'right-hand man' and regards itself as the 'deputy sheriff' of the Asia-Pacific region," the editorial says.

"And even if Australia has limited capabilities, it is still nice for it to pretend to be an 'auxiliary police officer'."

The Global Times claims China has never posed a threat to Australia and said Canberra's approach was "inappropriate and unwise" as China is Australia's largest trade partner.

The May 26 incident comes just weeks after then-Defence Minister Peter Dutton claimed a Chinese warship was "hugging" the West Australian coast in the days leading up to the federal election.

The Global Times said in light of the two incidents, it was perhaps time to remind Australia that "Sinophobia does Australia more harm than good".

How Sino-Australian relationship is fairing under Albanese

It's been a torrid two years of Sino-Australian relations, but it initially appeared as though China was extending an olive branch to Australia when Anthony Albanese won the Federal Election.

China's Premier Li Keqiang, second to President Xi Jinping, offered Mr Albanese his congratulations following the election and Beijing was reportedly ready to grow its partnership with Australia.

However, moments after he was sworn in as prime minister, Mr Albanese went on to say Australia's relationship with China "will remain a difficult one".

Pictured is Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia's relationship with China will remain "difficult". Source: AAP

"It is China that has changed, not Australia and Australia should always stand up for our values and we will in a Government that I lead," he said.

The recent Global Times editorial said there is no "auto-pilot" solution to improve diplomatic relations between Australia and China, rather Canberra needs to take "actual actions".

"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," the editorial concluded.

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