China's defence ministry says Dutch ship incident 'heinous'

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's defence ministry on Tuesday warned the Netherlands to restrain actions of its naval and air forces after the Netherlands' defence ministry said Chinese fighter jets approached a Dutch ship unsafely in the East China Sea.

"We strongly deplore the heinous nature of the Dutch side's words and deeds, and have lodged solemn representations with them," the Chinese defence ministry said.

Chinese air force jets circled a Dutch frigate and approached a Dutch helicopter in the East China Sea in a way that "caused a potentially unsafe situation," the Netherlands' defence ministry said on Saturday.

The ministry said the HNLMS Tromp was patrolling on Friday in support of U.N. sanctions against North Korea when it was circled several times by two Chinese fighter jets.

Later, the ship's NH90 helicopter was approached by two Chinese fighter jets and a helicopter in an incident that took place in international airspace, according to the Netherlands' defence ministry.

Zhang Xiaogang, a spokesperson for China's defence ministry said the Dutch side was "falsely claiming to be carrying out a U.N. mission and flexed its force in the sea and airspace under the jurisdiction of another country, creating tension and undermining the friendly relations between the two countries."

Zhang said China wanted to warn the Dutch side that "infringement and provocation will be resolutely countered by the Chinese side."

The United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Tromp is heading for Japan next and then to Hawaii for the "Rim of the Pacific" naval exercises, according to the Netherlands' defence ministry.

Both China and Japan claim a group of islets in the East China Sea, which has long been a sticking point in bilateral ties. The two countries have repeatedly faced off around the uninhabited Japanese-administered islands.

China's run-ins with the Philippine navy have also been escalating in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

(Reporting by Farah Master and the Beijing newsroom; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Michael Perry and Jamie Freed)