China and Australia had just opened up diplomatic conversations about a month ago. But this stalemate is being challenged by conflicts occurring in their airforce operations.

Last May, Australia started sending in aircraft for military surveillance in the South China Sea Region. According to the Australian Defense Department of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), their P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft was intercepted by China’s J-16 fighter during a “routine maritime surveillance activity.”

“The intercept resulted in a dangerous maneuver which posed a safety threat to the P-8 aircraft and its crew,” it said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said their government underwent rigorous approval to ensure their flight was legal and not harmful. These routine flights were in no way detrimental to the Chinese government.

This event happened after the Canadian military reported Chinese warplanes “harassing” their pilots during the United Nations sanctions patrols along the border with North Korea.

Though Beijing has not commented on Canada’s allegations, they have stark responses against Australian military aircraft.

China and Australia Map
The location of People’s Republic of China and Australia. (Source: Phoenix500/Wikimedia)

According to the Chinese Defense Ministry Tan Kefei, Australia’s fights seriously threatened China’s security and sovereignty. They said they needed to take countermeasures and that their interception was a just and “lawful” response. The ministry also said they’re “resolutely” opposing Australian regional actions.

Though the Chinese government’s keeping their defense, it’s challenging for Australia not to see this interception as a direct act of retaliation. Last May, Australian intelligence also discovered a spy ship operating on Australia’s west coast.

Defense Minister Peter Dutton said they followed the ship’s movements and had determined that it had the intention to collect intelligence “right along the coastline.”

“It has been in close proximity to military and intelligence installations on the west coast of Australia.”

When this happened, Australia did not respond with any violent force but raised their concerts to the Chinese embassy.

“I think it is an aggressive act, and I think particulartly because it has come so far south.”

The ship was identified as the Dongdiao Class Auxiliary Intelligence ship called “Haiwangxing.”

“Australia respects the right of all states to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace, just as we expect others to respect our right to do the same,” the Defense Forces said in a statement. “Defense will continue to monitor the ship’s operation in our maritime approaches.”

The US Military Ready to Step In

The US is now chiming in on the global affair. According to the US Department of Defense (DoD), China’s retaliation was uncalled for and ultimately “represents one of the most significant threats to peace and stability in the region.”

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US DoD’s El Ratner said these Chinese aggressions in the Indo-Pacific region have been happening more frequently in the past years, and this is a way for China to assert dominance over the area. Ratner said the recent Chinese interception is not the first time the country used its military for a dispute.

Spratly Islands
Location map of the Spratly Islands relief (Source: LuciferAhriman/Wikimedia)

One of the most talked-about China disputes is that of the Philippines’ Spratly Islands located in the Western Philippine Sea. On July 16, 2016, the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) offered a ruling in favor of the Philippines that confirmed China does not own the region.

However, China’s rejecting the overall ruling, saying the court in Hague has no real bearing on imposing the 501-page decision. In fact, in May 2018, China installed anti-ship cruise missiles, surface-to-air missile systems, and electronic jammers in Spratlys.

Ratner said that these were just examples of “unsafe” interceptions by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Over the years, these acts have “increased dramatically, with dozens of dangerous events in the first half of this year alone.”

“In my view, this aggressive and irresponsible behaviour represents one of the most significant threats to peace and stability in the region today, including in the South China Sea.”

If the Chinese military continues with its aggression in the region and causes a “major incident or accident,” the US will have to “demonstrate the will and capability to properly deter (People’s Republic of China) aggression,” according to Rater.

US General Mark Milley supports Australia’s claims and Ratner’s comments. Though they’re not looking to have a confrontation, all these acts from China “seems to imply that they want to bully or dominate.”

“It’s a big conference to discuss our mutual security interests and discuss national security issues that apply to all of us,” Milley said.