China said that its military has identified Australian military aircraft in the South China Sea and warned them to leave – days after Australia said fighter aircraft had intercepted one of its military surveillance planes in the region.
Tan Kefei, spokesman at the Chinese defence ministry, said on Tuesday that Australian military aircraft seriously threatened China’s sovereignty and security and the countermeasures taken by the Chinese military were reasonable and lawful.
He added that the ministry “resolutely” opposes Australian military actions in the region.
On Sunday, Australia’s defence department said in a statement that a Chinese fighter jet had “dangerously” intercepted an Australian military surveillance plane in the South China Sea region on May 26.
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese fighter during “routine maritime surveillance activity” in international airspace in the region, Australia’s defence ministry added.
The report came days after the Canadian military accused Chinese warplanes of harassing its pilots during United Nations patrols along the border with North Korea to monitor sanctions evasions.
Relations between Australia and China have been strained recently over growing Chinese influence in the Pacific after China sought a regional security deal with Pacific Island nations.
In February, Australia’s then Prime Minister Scott Morrison accused China of shining a laser at one of its surveillance planes, referring to the incident as an “act of intimidation”, which Australia considered “dangerous and reckless”.
Similarly, Australia’s defence minister condemned China after the discovery of a spy ship operating off the country’s western coast in May, and labelled it as “aggressive act”.