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China warns Australia off ‘provocative’ acts after RAAF plane intercept

China has accused Australia of "dangerous and provocative acts" in the South China Sea, in a determined defence of the "dangerous" interception of a Royal Australian Air Force surveillance plane in the region.

The RAAF P-8A Poseidon was conducting routine surveillance in international airspace above the South China Sea on May 26 when a Chinese PLA Air Force J-16 jet flew "very close", set off flares and dropped chaff in its path, the Australian Defence Department said.

But Chinese defence spokesman Colonel Tan Kefei, in Beijing's first direct comments on the incident, insisted the Australian plane ignored "repeated warnings" to turn around.

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"The Australian warplane has seriously threatened China's sovereignty and security and the countermeasures taken by the Chinese military are professional, safe, reasonable and legitimate," he said, according to a transcript on the defence ministry website on Tuesday.

"It is the Australia side that confuses black and white, repeatedly disseminates false information and instigates the hostility and confrontation. China firmly opposes all such deeds. 

"We urge the Australian side to immediately stop such dangerous and provocative acts and strictly restrict the operations of its naval and air forces, or it will bear all the serious consequences arising therefrom."

Tan claimed only that the plane entered airspace "near" the contested Paracel Islands and "continuously approached China's territorial airspace" — not that it flew over any of the islands.

The islands are also claimed by Vietnam and self-ruled Taiwan but have been in Chinese hands for more than 46 years.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said during his visit to Jakarta yesterday the interception was dangerous and threatened the safety of the RAAF plane and its crew.

"We regard the actions of China in this area as being an act of aggression," Albanese said.

The vast South China Sea has become hotly disputed between China and other countries, including Australia.

Tensions in the contested waters have ratcheted up since 2014 as China has turned sandbars into islands, equipping them with airfields, ports and weapons systems and warned Western warships and aircraft to stay away from them.

China earlier urged Australia to respect its national security concerns and avoid "serious consequences" after a Chinese military jet carried out a "dangerous" interception of a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) surveillance plane.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman on Monday refused to comment on the incident involving an RAAF P-8A Poseidon.

READ MORE: Chinese warplane interception shows limits of Australian power in disputed sea

A Royal Australian Air Force P-8 Poseidon aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese fighter jet, the Department of Defence says.

But the spokesman insisted China's military conducted operations in line with international law.

"China will never allow any country to violate China's sovereignty and security in the name of freedom of navigation, and endanger peace and stability in the South China Sea," the spokesman said.

"China once again urges the Australian side to earnestly respect China's national security interests and major concerns, and to be cautious in words and deeds, so as to avoid misjudgement and serious consequences."

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Earlier, Defence Minister Richard Marles said the federal government had raised its concerns over the "very dangerous" intercept with the Chinese government.

The crew of the RAAF plane were unharmed and returned to base after the incident.

The Canadian government has also complained that China has been harassing its military surveillance aircraft monitoring North Korea as part of a UN mission.

But China's defence ministry said Canada should halt "any risky and provocative behaviour" or face "serious consequences".

A Chinese J-16 fighter jet.

There have been other close encounters between Chinese and foreign warplanes over the years.

The worst of these occurred in 2001, when a Chinese fighter jet collided with a US Navy reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea.

In that case, the pilot of the Chinese F-8 fighter was killed and the US plane had to make an emergency landing on China's Hainan Island.

The 24 US crew members were held on the Chinese island for 11 days before their release.

– Reported with CNN

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