Australia PM blasts China for ‘unacceptable’ use of flares near military helicopter

China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that the necessary measures had been taken to warn the Australian helicopter. “The Australian military aircraft flew near China’s airspace in a threatening way,” said foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian. “China military took necessary measures to warn the Australian side.”

Albanese said Australia’s had made 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.

An Australian Seahawk helicopter prepares to take off from the deck of HMAS Hobart. Photo: Australian Defence Force/Handout via AP

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 intransigent 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, and Australia had made “very strong representations at every level to China”, he added.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang is expected to visit Australia next month, he said.

“We will make our position clear as well in discussions,” he said.

They shouldn’t have been at any risk

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

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.

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China-Australia relations ‘on the right path’, Xi Jinping tells Anthony Albanese on Beijing visit

China-Australia relations ‘on the right path’, Xi Jinping tells Anthony Albanese on Beijing visit

In a separate incident in 2022, Australia said a Chinese fighter aircraft dangerously intercepted an Australian military surveillance plane in the South China Sea, releasing a “bundle of chaff” containing pieces of aluminium that were ingested into the Australian aircraft’s engine.

Liu Jianchao, head of the international department of the Chinese Communist Party, said during a visit to Australia in November the Australian navy’s movements in the South China Sea and East China Sea appeared to be an effort to contain China.

Australia has rejected this, saying it respects the right of all states to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law.

China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, a conduit for more than US$3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. An international tribunal in 2016 said China’s expansive claim had no legal basis.

Chinese navy vessels have been tracked off Australia’s coast several times in recent years, including monitoring exercises with the US military.

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