Australian PM Albanese says China military air incident unacceptable

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese recently said that it was unacceptable for Australian defence personnel to be put at risk in international airspace by the Chinese military as they took part in an operation to enforce United Nations sanctions on North Korea.

A Chinese fighter jet endangered an Australian military helicopter during an unsafe and unacceptable confrontation over the Yellow Sea, Australia said on Monday.

The Chinese air force J-10 jet dropped flares above and several hundred meters ahead of an Australian MH60R Seahawk helicopter on a routine flight on Saturday in the Yellow Sea as part of an operation to enforce sanctions against North Korea, Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Monday evening.

In a television interview, Albanese said China had not yet responded publicly to Australia’s representations over the incident.

“This issue, we have made public in order to be able to speak out very clearly and unequivocally that this behaviour is unacceptable,” he told Nine’s Today Show.

The Australian Defence Force personnel were “in international waters, international airspace, and they’re doing work to ensure that the sanctions that the world has imposed through the United Nations on North Korea, due to their intransient and reckless behaviour, are enforced”.

“They shouldn’t have been at any risk,” he said.

The Australian public expected an explanation from China about the incident, he added.

The helicopter, flying from destroyer HMAS Hobart, dodged the flares. The confrontation put the aircraft and those on board at risk, although no one was hurt, the Department of Defence said in a separate statement.

This is the second such incident in six months to mar what has otherwise been a growing rapprochement between the two countries after years of strained relations and trade disputes.

Australia said in November a Chinese naval vessel injured some of its divers in Japanese waters using an underwater sonar. China denied it had used its sonar; however, Australia rejected the explanation.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Stephen Coates)