China changes story on military confrontation, accuses Australia of spying

Seahawk helicopter

Beijing has shifted its story on the latest confrontation between Chinese and Australian forces, claiming that one of its fighter jets intercepted an Australian helicopter because it was trying to spy on naval exercises in the Yellow Sea.

Australia lodged diplomatic protests with Beijing after a Chinese fighter jet dropped flares just in front of an Australian Seahawk helicopter enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea, with Defence Minister Richard Marles warning the incident endangered Australian personnel.

A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Australia of “provocative” behaviour but seemed to confirm the confrontation occurred over international waters, saying the helicopter simply flew “within close range of China’s airspace”.

But in a later statement, the Chinese Ministry of Defence issued a different account, accusing Australia of spying on military exercises being conducted by China in the region.

A large ship sails along the coastline.

HMAS Toowoomba was subjected to sonar pulses from a nearby Chinese warship while operating in the South China Sea on a UN mission last November.(Department of Defence)

“A Chinese naval fleet conducted training in relevant waters of China’s Yellow Sea from May 3 to 4, during which the Australian guided missile destroyer HMAS Hobart dispatched a ship-borne helicopter for three times to conduct close-in reconnaissance and disturb the normal training activities of the Chinese side,” said Senior Colonel Zhang Xiaogang.

“Chinese troops sent a vocal warning to the Australian helicopter and conducted legitimate, reasonable, professional, and safe operations to expel it, which are fully in line with the international law and international practice.”

A spokesperson for Mr Marles declined to respond, but said the government stood by its account of the incident.

Beijing has previously accused the US of spying on its forces in the wake of confrontations and interceptions in the South China Sea.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wasn’t directly questioned about the spying allegation but said the statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs proved Australia’s account was accurate.

“Indeed in the wording they’ve used saying they were near Chinese airspace is confirmation that there’s no question that the Australian Defence Force personnel were both in international waters and airspace,” he said.

“They were undertaking work on behalf of the international community enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea.”


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