Australia says Chinese warplane fired flares near its navy helicopter on North Korea sanctions mission

Chengdu J-10 jet forces Seahawk helicopter to take evasive action by detonating flares along its flight path

Shweta Sharma
Tuesday 07 May 2024 08:14 BST
Related: Russian fighter jet damages US drone with flares over Syria

Australia has protested a Chinese warplane’s “unprofessional and unacceptable” use of flares near one of its helicopters flying a United Nations mission to enforce sanctions against North Korea in international waters.

The country’s Defence Department said the pilot of the MH-60R Seahawk was forced to take evasive action after a People’s Liberation Army fighter jet ejected flares in its flight path over the Yellow Sea on Saturday.

Anthony Albanese said he made "very strong representations at every level to China" about the incident amid pressure to address the matter directly with Chinese president Xi Jinping.

"We’ve just made it very clear to China that this is unprofessional and that it’s unacceptable," the Australian prime minister told Nine Network television.

Canberra said the navy helicopter, launched from the naval ship HMAS Hobart, was on a mission to enforce UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea when a Chinese jet detonated flares along its flight path.

"This was an unsafe manoeuvre which posed a risk to the aircraft and personnel. While there were no injuries sustained by ADF personnel or damage caused to the MH-60R helicopter, the safety and wellbeing of our ADF personnel continues to be our utmost priority," the Defence Department said.

The Chengdu J-10 fighter jet dropped flares about 300 metres in front of the helicopter and about 60 metres above it, forcing it to take evasive action in order to not be hit by those flares, defence minister Richard Marles said.

"The consequence of being hit by the flares would have been significant,” he added. "This is a very serious incident. It was unsafe and it is completely unacceptable."

China hasn’t commented on Australia’s allegations so far.

Canberra is expected to raise the matter when Chinese premier Li Qiang visits Australia in June. "One of the things that had broken down over a period of time was any dialogue. Dialogue is important. It’s always, always important to have avenues of communication," Mr Albanese said.

He was referring to the period since 2020 when China ended ministerial discussions with Australia’s previous government which lost power in 2022.

While visiting China in November, Mr Albanese invited Mr Xi to visit Australia for the first time in a decade, citing the recent improvement in bilateral relations from historic lows. However, he announced on Tuesday that Mr Xi would not be visiting the country this year.

Mr Albanese said he anticipated “some face-to-face engagement” with the Chinese leader when they attend the G20 and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summits later this year.

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