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China accuses Australia, Canada of ‘disinformation’ over jet encounters

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BEIJING: Beijing on Tuesday accused Australia and Canada of “spreading disinformation” over allegedly dangerous manoeuvres by Chinese military pilots in international airspace.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a day earlier hit out at “irresponsible and provocative” actions by Beijing’s air force after Canadian aircraft deployed in Japan narrowly avoided a collision with Chinese jets late last month.

The incident has again heightened tensions between Beijing and Ottawa, just as a lengthy crisis over Canada’s 2018 arrest of a Chinese tech executive subsides.

China responded to Trudeau’s comments by calling on Canada to “respect the facts (and) stop spreading disinformation”.

“Canadian fighter jets’ enemy reconnaissance of China is out-and-out irresponsible and provocative behaviour,” said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a press briefing on Tuesday. “China resolutely opposes actions that threaten China’s state sovereignty and security under any pretext.”

The Canadian aircraft were deployed in Japan for a multinational effort to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

They were forced to quickly modify their flight path to “avoid a potential collision with the intercepting aircraft”, the Canadian military said.

In a separate row, Australia claimed last week that Chinese fighter planes intercepted one of its jets over the South China Sea during a routine operation.

Australia argued it is not unusual for it to undertake surveillance flights over the strategic waterway, which Beijing insists comes under its domain despite a 2016 Hague ruling that dismissed its claim.

But China said earlier on Tuesday that an Australian P-8A anti-submarine patrol aircraft came near the airspace of the disputed Paracel Islands — known as Xisha in China — on May 26.

The aircraft “approached for reconnaissance, ignoring repeated warnings from the Chinese side”, said defence ministry spokesman Tan Kefei.

The People’s Liberation Army organised naval and air forces to identify the military aircraft, “issuing a warning to drive it away”, Tan added.

“The Australian military plane seriously threatened China’s sovereignty and security, and the measures taken by the Chinese military were professional, safe, reasonable and legal,” he said.

Tan accused Australia of spreading “false information” and called the actions of the Australian pilots “dangerous and provocative”.

In February, Canberra accused the Chinese military of shining a military-grade laser at one of its defence planes over waters north of Australia, labelling it an “act of intimidation”.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2022

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