China and Australia Tussle in the Skies Over the South China Sea

Australia flew a spy plane that was intercepted by a Chinese jet fighter. 

Australia was flying one of its spy planes over the South China Sea when a Chinese interceptor allegedly flew a dangerous maneuver. 

China claims the entirety of the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea as part of its territory, a claim that was declared invalid by the Permanent Court of Arbitration because it violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS. 

Canberra insisted it was normal to conduct “surveillance flights” in the South China Sea, but Beijing warned it could have serious consequences and said Australia should act prudently, according to an Agence France-Presse report. 

More: A Chinese Spy Ship Was Caught in the Sulu Sea

“China once again urges Australia to earnestly respect China's national security interests and core interests, act and speak prudently to avoid a miscalculation occurring that results in serious consequences,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

Zhao insisted China always acted and carried out operations safely and in accordance with international law.

The Laser Incident

It is not the first time Beijing and Canberra engaged in saber-rattling over security issues. In late February 2022, Australia alleged that a Chinese ship dangerously shone a laser at an Australian air force plane as it sailed within Australia's exclusive economic zone in the Arafura Sea. Analysts believe the Chinese ship was in the vicinity to monitor Australian military exercises off the Queensland coast.

Australia’s defense ministry slammed China, describing the laser incident as “unprofessional and unsafe military conduct.” Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister called the incident an “aggressive, bullying act.”


Warships typically use lasers as targeting mechanisms and guides for missiles. According to the Guardian, this is routinely practiced against dummy targets.

“Pointing a laser is often referred to as ‘painting a target’ before firing live munitions, such as artillery shells, machine guns or missiles,” writes John Blaxland

“It is widely seen as a hostile act, just short of crossing the threshold of open conflict or war,” he adds.

More: Explainer on the West Philippine Sea

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